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Life 'of John 


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I 7 J' v ? > 



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[At the time he built the Princeton, 1841.] 














IT was the declared wish of John Ericsson that I 
should tell the story of his life. The executors of his 
estate, Messrs. George H. Robinson and Cornelius S. 
Bushnell, have accordingly placed in my hands all of 
his letters and papers. His life-long friend, Mr. John 
O. Sargent, has freely opened to me the letters received 
from. Captain Ericsson during fifty years of intimate 
intercourse and has given me the benefit of his recol- 
lections of the great engineer. The associates of Cap- 
tain Ericsson in his office work, Mr. Samuel W. Taylor 
and Mr. Valdemar F. Lassoe, have also rendered me 
valuable assistance. To all of these gentlemen my 
thanks are due. While the task of sifting the volu- 
minous correspondence and collecting the necessary 
facts has not been a light one, it has brought full com- 
pensation in the study of a great intellect and a gen- 
erous heart. 

w. a c. 





Birth. Ancestry, Parental Influences, Youthful Home. Early 
Education and Associations. The Gnome Prophecy. First 
Inventions. The Gota Canal 1 



Autobiographical Account of Ericsson's Early Life, Finds a Friend 
in Count von Platen. Training on the Gota Canal. Death of 
Ericsson's Father. Becomes a Soldier. Military Life in Jemt- 
land. Wonderful Gymnastic Skill and Physical Strength. 
Promoted to a Lieutenantcy and Appointed Government Sur- 
veyor. Birth of a Son. His Flame Engine U 



Bemoves to London. His Promotion and Eesignation as a Swed- 
ish Officer. Becomes a Partner of John Braithwaite. First 
Use of Compressed Air and Artificial Draught. His Novel Ap- 
plications of Steam-power. Invents Surface Condensation. 
Quarrels with Sir John Boss. Invents the Steam Fire-en- 
gine. Prejudices of the London Firemen against it 86 





Aristocratic Prejudice against Eailroads. Stephenson's Contest 
with Philistine England. The Liverpool & Manchester Bail- 
road offers a Prize. The Argument for and against the Loco- 
motive Engine. The Rainhill Trial of 1829. Stephenson's 
Rocket and Ericsson's Novelty. The Novelty shoots by the 
Rocket like a Projectile. A Mile in Fifty-six Seconds. Steam 
Power Supersedes Muscle. Public Excitement. A New Era 
Inaugurated 49 



A Spendthrift in Invention. Associations with "William Laird. - 
The Caloric Engine the Sensation of London. Faraday's Lect- 
ure upon it. Ericsson Anticipates Sir William Thomson's 
Sounding Apparatus. Applies Steam to Canal Navigation 67 



Fortunate Kesult of the Eainhill Contest. Ericsson's Viking 
Blood. Studies in Naval Engineering and Gunnery. Kela- 
tions to Captain Eobert F. Stockton. The Screw Propeller. 
The First Steam Tug. -Early Experiments with the Screw 8& 



Adventurous Voyage of the Stockton Across the Atlantic. Subse- 
quent History of the First Screw Steamer. [Recognition of 
Ericsson's Claims to the Screw. Eobert Fulton's War-steamer. 
Naval Opposition to the Use of Steam. Award of a Gold 
Medal for the Steam Fire-engine. Early Use of Propeller 




in American Waters. Ericsson's Personal Appearance and 
Habits. Mrs. Ericsson Joins her Husband 



Screw Vessel Ordered for the Navy. Captain Stockton calls Erics- 
son to His Aid. His Testimony to Ericsson's Ability. The 
Direct-acting Screw System. Stockton's Injustice to Erics- 
son. The Guns, "Oregon" and "Peacemaker." Disastrous 
Explosion of the Stockton Gun. President Tyler Loses Two 
of His Cabinet. Universal Excitement. Success of the 
Princeton. Other Naval Vessels Rendered Obsolete. Erics- 
son's Physical Strength .................................... 



Ericsson Declines to be Held Responsible for the Princeton Disas- 
ter. Anger of Stockton. Payment for the Princeton Refused. 
Correspondence with the Navy Department. Application to 
Congress. Testimony of Dionysius Lardner and Professor 
Mapes.- Legislative Injustice. The Court of Claims Allows 
the Princeton Claim. Congress still Refuses to Pay it. Stock- 
ton as a Duellist. Ste vena's Bomb-proof .................... 140 



General Introduction of the Screw. Adopted for the British Navy. 

First Use of Twin Screws. Ericsson's Business Methods and 
Finances. Auxiliary Steam Vessels. Their Use During the 
War with Mexico. The Massachusetts General Scott's Flag- 
ship. The Princeton Claim Again. Failure of the Iron Witch. 

Business Associations with R. B. Forbes. Ericsson's Work 
for the Government. Competitive Trial of Screw-vessels. 
Rival Claims to the Invention of the Screw. Contests in the 
Courts. ,,,..,, ...... ,.,..,...,., .......................... 155 





The Perfection Engine. Plans for a War Vessel. Ericsson Em- 
ployed by the United States Government During the War with 
Mexico. Elected Honorary Church Member and Becomes a 
Citizen. Honors from England. His Temperance Principles. 
Prosperity and Adversity 176 



Sinking of the Ericsson in New York Harbor. It is Raised and 
Takes the Seventh New York Regiment to Richmond, ItsUso 
during the Civil War. Attempts to Apply Hot Air on a Large 
Scale Abandoned. Its Application to Small Motors. Specula- 
tions as to the Moral Besulfcs to Follow their Adoption. Princo 
Krapotkin's Opinion. Large Demand for the Caloric Engine. 
Its Advantages and Profits 195 



Keceipts for Patent Fees. Report on the Hot-air Engine by Dr. 
F. A. P. Barnard. Application of the Begenerative Principle 
by Sir William Siemens. Faraday's Continued Faith in It. 
Its Application to the Steam-engine. Professor E. N. Hors- 
ford's Investigation of the Caloric Engine. Its Progress Dur- 
ing Thirty Years. Ericsson Beceives the Bumford Prize. ..... 206 



Ericsson's Associates and Friends. His Interest in European Pol- 
itics.- He Meets with an Accident. Submits to a Surgical 
Operation. His Physical Condition. His Acquaintance with 
Professor J, J. Mapes. His Favorite Authors. His Mathe- 
matical and Linguistic Acquirements. His Relations with Mr. 
Delamater. Personal Anecdotes. His Physical Vigor. Hopes 
to Live a Century 220 





Ericsson's Preparation for His Great Work. His Struggles with Pro- 
fessional Jealousy. Dealings with the Navy Department Pre- 
vious to 1861. Presents Two Sub-aquatic Systems of Attack to 
the Emperor of the French. History of Armored Vessels. 
Outbreak of the Civil War. Prompt Action of the Confed- 
erate Authorities. Ericsson Offers His Services to President 
Lincoln. Is Called to Washington. Dramatic Interview with 
the Board on Armor-Clads. The Monitor Ordered 233 



Partnership with Messrs. Bushnell, Winslow, and Griswold. Inter- 
view with Thomas F, Rowland. Laying the Keel of the Moni- 
tor. Building and Launching of the Vessel. Mishaps by the 
Way. Herculean Labors. Doubts and Criticisms of Commo- 
dore Smith. Payments for the Vessel Delayed. Cost and 
Profit 254 



Professional Ignorance on the Subject of Armored Vessels. Erics- 
son's Mastery of the Subject. -The Monitor Intended for Far- 
ragut's Fleet before New Orleans. Ordered to Washington. 
Stopped en route at Fort Monroe. Timely Arrival and En- 
counter with the Merrimac. Turns the Tide of Battle 273 



Congratulations and Applause Following the Success of the Monitor. 
Delight of the Swedes. Letter from Mrs. Ericsson. Erics- 
son's only Speech. His Chagrin at the Drawn Battle between 
the Monitor and the Merrimac. Exaggerated Hopes and Fears 
on both Sides 290 















1829. (From pen-and-ink drawing by C. B. Vignoles.) 64 






37UTE, 1840 107 










TOR, 1854 239 





"I/homme vertueux qui remplit fidfclement ses devoirs envera 
le pays qui Va vu naitre, a des droits a la reconnaisRance de sa 
patrie. Le philanthrope qui vone ses lumieres et ses veilles au 
bien-etre de 1'humanite entire, a droifc de citoyen chez tons les 
peuples." Charles- Jean (Bemadotte), King of Sweden. 




Birth. Ancestry. Parental Influences. Youthful Home. Early Ed- 
ucation and Associations. The Gnome Prophecy. First Inven- 
tions. The Gota Canal. 

THE story of the development of special faculties under 
favoring conditions is always interesting, always instruc- 
tive ; and this is the story of John Ericsson. In him Nature 
and Opportunity combined their forces to produce the great 
engineer. The good seed falling upon good ground brought 
forth abundantly. 

He was born at the opening of this century of mechanical 
achievement, on July 31, 1803, and was a native of Vermland, 
a division of Swedish territory nearly equivalent in size to 
British Wales or the American State of 'New Jersey. Verm- 
land is one of the seven "lans" into which Central Sweden 
is divided, and follows the "Ian" of Stockholm in the order of 
importance. On its easterly boundary lies the mining district 
of No rd mark, and here, at the time of John's birth, resided 
his father, Olof Ericsson, Inspector of Mines at Langbanshyt- 

Whether or not we accept the theory that the physical and 
intellectual vigor to which Greater Britain owes its glory is of 
Scandinavian origin, it is beyond question that the Norseland 
lias been, for more than two thousand years, the home of one 
of the most intelligent and energetic of peoples ; a sturdy race 
which has never yielded to a foreign conqueror since Odin, with 
his Scythians from the Black Sea, colonized the Scandinavian 
peninsula. No kingdom of equal extent occupies a higher 



place in modern history than Sweden. In territory she Is ex- 
ceeded by California, and is scarcely more than one-half the 
size of Texas. In population she is outnumbered by the States 
of New York and Pennsylvania, and nearly equalled by the 
single city of London. Even when under G-nstavus Adolphus 
she held chief place among the great powers of the world, her 
people did not exceed two millions and a half a population 

John Ericsson's Birthplace and Monument. 

less than that of any one of half a dozen States of the Amer- 
ican Union. 

John Ericsson was a Swede of Swedes. Explaining his use 
of the signature of " Thule 5 ' on one occasion, he states that 
"Ultima Thule" was the home of his "remote ancestry ;" not 
a very definite designation, for some locate Thule in Southern 
Norway, others in Iceland; and Procopius, the secretary of 
Belisarius, who described Scandinavia thirteen centuries ago, 
gave to it the name of "Thule." The family name suggests 


nothing, as Eric is simply the equivalent of the Italian Enrico, 
the Spanish Enrique, the German Heinrich, the English Henry, 
and the French Henri. The sons of Eric have always been 
numerous in Scandinavia, and they have been equally at home 
in the palaces of kings and the huts of the peasantry. Gus- 
tavus Vasa, before he was crowned, bore this name, as the son 
of Eric Johansson, the Swedish senator. 

As far back certainly as the seventeenth century John 
Ericsson's ancestors were miners in the district where he was 
born. Sir John Sinclair,* who visited Sweden shortly before 
John's birth, describes this class of Swedes as tall, robust, ac- 
tive, and good-looking; loyal to the death, brave beyond ques- 
tion, and so honest that they could be trusted with anything. 
Robbery was almost unknown among them. They were civil, 
obedient, contented, arid ardent lovers of their country ; posses- 
sing, in short, the characteristics of those who have cultivated 
for generations unnumbered the virtues of a free people. 

The first of this Ericsson family of whom we have any ac- 
count was Magnus Stadig, a miner, who died in 1739. Magnus 
had a son Eric, born in 1724. He died in 1755, leaving a son 
Nils, born in 1747. Nils Ericsson advanced the family one 
step beyond their ancestral employment as laborers in the Nord- 
mark mines. He was a mining proprietor and accumulated 
some property. This property was transmitted to his son Olof, 
the father of John, but Olof's inability to keep it returned the 
family to its original condition of poverty ; so that among John's 
earliest recollections was that of the appearance of the sheriff 
selling the family furniture to satisfy the demands of importu- 
nate creditors. 

A better inheritance than ancestral wealth was the educa- 
tion Olof received. To it were due the early influences that . 
shaped the career of his sons. He was a graduate of the gym- 
nasium, or college, of Karlstad, the principal town of Yermland. 
As Latin and Hebrew were part of the compulsory course, 
Olof was well educated, after the standards of his -time. He 
was a clever mathematician and possessed an excellent mechan- 
ical judgment. He does not appear to have been a man of very 

* Correspondence of the Eight Hon. Sir John Sinclair, Bart., with Rem- 
iniscences of Distinguished Characters. Two vols. London, 1831. 


Yigovous personality, nor did he inherit a strong constitution, if 
we may judge from the record that he died at the age of forty, 
his father at forty-three, and his grandfather at thirty-one. 
Olof Ericsson is described as having been a man notable for his 
o-ood looks, his amiability of disposition, and his devotion as a 
father. In 1799 he married Brita Sophia Yugstrom, of the 
same age as himself, twenty-one. Her family was of Flemish 
origin, and the marriage of her grandfather with a woman of 
Scottish descent introduced a strain o Caledonian Wood into 
the veins of John. 

Sir John Sinclair* reported a century ago that more than 
sixty of the noblest and most powerful families in Sweden 
were of Scotch extraction' and proud of their origin. The 
Caledonian Swedes are descended from officers of the Scottish 
regiments who served with great distinction under Gnstavus 
Adolphns in his German war and afterward settled in Swe- 
den. Tradition does not tell us to what family of Scotch 
Swedes John Ericsson's great grandmother belonged, but the 
strains of blood that came to him through his mother must 
have been strong and rich in quality. Her family was origi- 
nally named Horn, her father, John Ericsson's grandfather, hav- 
ing been compelled, while serving in his youth in the Swedish 
army, to change his name, to satisfy the susceptibilities of his 
commanding officer, a Count Horn of the illustrious Flemish 
line of that name. Jan Horn, or Yugstrom, seems to have 
been a man of a sturdy nature, for he refused to accept from 
Count Horn the money offered him in compensation for his pat- 
ronymic. He would change his name he said, but would not 
be paid for doing so. Two generations later, his descendant, 
John Ericsson's brother Nils, was created a baron, and had the 
satisfactibn of hanging his escutcheon in company with that 
of the proud Horns on the walls of the Swedish House o 

If to his father he was indebted for his mechanical bent, 3fc 
was from his mother, apparently, that John Ericsson derived 
some of his most distinguishing characteristics. She came of a 
longer-lived race, and lived to be seventy-five. She is described 

* Correspondence of the Eight Hon. Sir John Sinclair, Bart., with Rem- 
iniscences of Distinguished Characters- Two vols. London, 1831. 


by a relative as a u warm-hearted, intellectual, liigli-spirited 
woman of great firmness of character, a cheerful disposition, and 
active habits ; very handsome, tall and slender in figure, with 
magnificent light blue eyes that deepened in color, sparkling 
and flashing most brilliantly, when she was animated. Love of 
reading is a Swedish characteristic, and Sophie Ericsson studied 
ardently works of a philosophical, social, religious, and polit- 
ical character. She was fond of fiction and poetry as well, 
and if we are to judge by a little library she left, Walter Scott 
was among her favorite authors." 

The family of Mrs. Ericsson had been mining proprietors 
and landowners in Vermland for several generations. a The 
bounty of God," said Duke Charles of Sweden three centuries 
ago, "has replenished the mountains of Vermland with all 
sorts of ores." The mining district where the Ericssons and 
Yngstroms had so long lived has yielded its treasures for more 
than five hundred years, and during that time has developed a 
people of a striking individuality. The Vermlander is a moun- 
taineer, and he exhibits in marked degree the sturdy inde- 
pendence and passionate local attachment distinguishing the 
liiglilander. He is moreover bv nature cheerful, intelligent, 

O / 7 O J 

industrious, persevering, frank, and hospitable. 

Vermland lies among the chief watercourses and lakes of 
Sweden, within six degrees of the arctic circle, two degrees 
north of Sitka, Alaska, and in the latitude of southernmost 
Greenland. It is on the borders of Norway, on the direct line 
of travel between Stockholm and Christiania. During the Mid- 
dle Ages it was the home of Swedish Hobin Hoods, who levied 
toll upon the caravans carrying tribute to the Norwegian King 
from the subject province of Sweden, and it was long a debata- 
ble ground between the two Scandinavian kingdoms. In Erics- 
son's youth dense forests still covered portions of its territory, 
and in their hidden depths were to be found forgotten villages, 
depopulated by the "black death" of the fourteenth century. 

Vermland is a region of legend, song, and romance, and 
here the old Norse; spirit has been least influenced by modern 
change. It was the birthplace of Geijer, the historian and poet 
of Sweden. In its imposing scenery and primitive Scandi- 
navian spirit he found inspiration for those Swedish folksongs 


which were so powerfully influencing national sentiment at 
the time John Ericsson's mind was receiving its strongest 
impressions. Here too was born Esias Tegner, the author of 
" Frithiof Saga," and chief of those to whom Sweden owes the 
Gothic revival that marked the opening of the present century. 
It was in Vermland forests that Almquist sought in 1823 to 
establish a colony which was to return to the old Norse princi- 
ple of natural living, and to the old Norse paganism likewise. 
To be a Vermlander, in short, is to be a Swede of the inten- 
sest and most distinctive type. 

In its natural features Vermland is a confusion of moun- 
tains, streams, and lakes. Across it extend spurs from a range 
of snow-clad hills whose northern limit is within the arctic 
circle. These mountains are the spine of the Scandinavian 
peninsula, and the dividing line between Sweden and Norway. 
From their eastern slopes flow across Swedish territory the 
streams emptying into the Gulf of Bothnia, and from the west 
come the rivers whose waters pour into the Atlantic through 
the Norwegian fiords whence Harold the Fairhaired and Rolf 
the Ganger set forth a thousand years ago upon those con- 
quests " momentous at this day, not to England alone, but to all 
speakers of the English tongue, now spread from side to side 
of the world in a wonderful degree." 

Through the narrow rifts or valleys separating the mountain 
ridges of Vermland flow southward numerous swift streams, of 
which the river Elar is chief. These streams empty at the 
south into Lake Venern, the boundary of the district, and 
chief of European lakes, Lake Ladoga in Russia alone ex- 
cepted. East of Elfdale, as the central valley of the Klar is 
called, rise numerous hills, none exceeding twelve or thirteen 
hundred feet in height. Here are found those ores of iron 
famed the world over, from which is wrought the steel used in 
the best cutlery. The soil in Vermland is scanty and yields 
meagre returns, though the Vermland plough is famous through- 
out Sweden. 

The scenes and circumstances of John Ericsson's early life 
in this glorious mountain region, and among these primitive 
people, were sure to powerfully influence a nature so intense as 
his. After he left Sweden his affections sefem never to have 


rooted themselves elsewhere, and lie turned toward the home 
of his youth with always ardent devotion. " I am so entirely 
Swedish," he wrote in the midst of his triumphs, "that I can- 
not bear the thought that I am believed to have forgotten, or 
set aside in preference for some other, our beautiful mother 
tongue, the language of glory and heroes ! ' " 

Belief in the utterance of Volvas or Sibyls is one of the an- 
cient superstitions of Scandinavia. So the ancient Swede who 
announced to the family of the Yngstroms that there should be 
born to them two sons who would be famous the world over 
found sufficient credence to secure a place in the family annals. 

In the middle of the seventeenth century, when Brita So- 
phia's father was a young man, he had in his service a poor 
cripple, who, during the summer, drove his cattle into the 
depths of the forest in search of pasture. In a measure his de- 
formity shut "lame Eric" out from his kind, and he was more 
at home with the birds and the brooks, his friendly herds and 
the wild animals who had grown accustomed to his harmless 
presence. Alone with them and his own meditations he had 
abundant opportunity to cultivate the spirits of the wood and 
had unquestioning faith in their existence. On one occasion 
Eric failed of his customary weekly visit to Langbanshyttan, 
and when search was made he was found lying sick in a lonely 
barn. With illness added to his solitude, strange fancies had 
come to him, and he reported the visit of a friendly gnome 
who brought report that a house was soon to be built at a cer- 
tain point on the Yngstrom property, and that there should be 
born two boys "whose names would be known the world over." 

This story became a tradition in the Tngstrom family, and 
when Brita Sophia went to housekeeping with her young hus- 
band in a little one-story cottage with a turfed roof, inherited 
from her father, and standing on the very spot the gnome had 
indicated, she was sufficiently impressed with the prophecy to 
remember it when the time for its application carne. 

After her marriage to Olof Ericsson in 1799 she bore to 
him three children, Caroline in 1800, JN~ils in 1802, and John 
in 1803. The young husband was part owner of a mine and 
also superintendent of the works at Langbanshyttan, a region 
noted for the beauty of its scenery. Mountains qovered with 


fir enclosed narrow valleys where lay hidden tiny lakes, their 
shores bordered by leafy woods, showing here and there among 
the clearings clusters of cottages, the homes of an industrious 
people; prosperous and contented after their fashion, for Swed- 
ish country life was at that time of the most frugal sort. 

Shut out from the great world by the inaccessibility of their 
position, they were a primitive folk, simple in their habits and 
wholly removed from the French influences and ideas control- 
ling at the capital ; for France and Sweden were at this period 
united by a common dislike of Russia, and every effort was 
made by the French to maintain intimate relations with their 
ally. So powerful was the influence of the French in Sweden 
toward the end of the last century and the beginning of this, 
that they were accustomed to say that they kept the Swedes, 
as they kept the Turks, " like wild beasts in their dens, to be 
let loose for fighting whenever they desired." 

The Ericsson family would have commanded attention any- 
where. The daughter was a child of unusual beauty and the 
boys were handsom-e, intelligent, and spirited. John was tho 
wonder of the neighborhood. From the very first he exhibited 
the qualities distinguishing him in later life. lie was ceaseless 
in his industry ; busied from morning to night drawing, plan- 
ning, and constructing. The machinery at the ininos was to 
him an endless source of wonder and delight. In the early 
morning he hastened to the works, carrying with him a draw- 
ing-pencil, bits of paper., pieces of wood, and his few rude tools. 
There he would remain the day through, seeking to discover 
the principles of motion in the machines, and striving to copy 
their forms. 

When it came to learning his letters, the precocious John 
had opinions of his own as to how they should be formed. He 
quickly perceived that the characters set before him were sym- 
bols, and he was discovered one day 011 the shore of the little 
lake " Ilytt," bordering the homestead, drawing in the sand 
characters that suited his fancy better than those of the Swed- 
ish alphabet. There was born with this sturdy spirit an uncon- 
querable disposition to rebel against routine. Usually the boy 
was too much occupied with his studying and contriving to 
join in the pastimes of other children, When'the family left 


home, on some one of those excursions that furnish the mild ex- 
citements of rural life, he would run down to open the gate for 
them and then return to his drawing-board and his work-box, 
delighted to find himself alone and free to follow his own de- 
vices. Among his treasures was found a collection of drawings 
circles, lines, squares, and curves in great variety ; not the 
meaningless peucillings of a child at play, but complete me- 
chanical sketches representing the machinery of the mines and 
saw-mills of the district. 

The elder brother, Nils, was more fond of pleasure, but his 
subsequent career as an engineer shows also the influence of 
early training, for Olof Ericsson sought in every way to en- 
courage the mechanical occupations of his sons ; and John re- 
membered his father with special affection as the one who 
had first stimulated into activity the faculties in whose exer- 
cise he was to find the joy of his life. 

Olof Ericsson made no name for himself, but the world owes 
him honor for what he did for his children. The Chinese en- 
noble the ancestors and not the descendants of those who do the 
state service, and the custom has its foundation in reason ; great 
men, good men, useful men are the product of the high thought 
and noble aspiration, the useful labors, and the self-discipline 
of their ancestors. In the curious kaleidoscopic changes of 
character produced by the admixture of bloods, almost every 
pattern may appear, but none the material for which could not 
be found in ancestral inheritance. 

The years from 1811 to ISli were trying ones for the 
Swedes ;' the war with Russia, depriving them of Finland, was 
in progress, and the freaks of the insane Gustavus IY. kept the 
little kingdom in constant turmoil. Business did not thrive ; 
many were ruined, and among them Olof Ericsson. The happy 
life at Langsbanshyttan was ended, the home there broken up, 
and the Ericsson family were for the first time brought face to 
face with the rude realities of life. The father had been edu- 
cated for prosperity ; he was a man of sensitive and refined 
rather than of robust nature ; his son tells us that " he could not 
bear the smell of a peasant," and to a peasant's condition he had 
now come. The blow was a cruel one, and Olof Ericsson would 
have sunk under it had he not been sustained by the courage 



and vigor of his wife. A Lard winter followed and the misery 
of the distressed family was great. But the old life was ended 
that a new and better one might open before them, and their 
opportunity soon came, as the hopeful mother had insisted that 
it would. 

The project of the Grota Canal, with which the fortunes of 
the Ericssons were to be identified, was revived at this time. 

Ericsson's Home after his Father's Failure. 

Olof Ericsson secured the position of engineer or foreman in 
charge of a gang of men engaged in blasting rock on the line 
of the canal, his station being at Forsvik, near Lake Vettern, 
one hundred miles from his old home among the mountains of 
Vermland. The purpose of this canal was to establish ship 
navigation across the Swedish peninsula by a series of short 


canals connecting a chain of navigable waters stretching across 
the country, and improving the navigation of the Gota River, 
which carries the waters of Lake Yenern into the North Sea. 
The first suggestion of this improvement is traced to a Swed- 
ish bishop,. Brock, who proposed it in 1526, during the reign 
of King Gustavus Yasa. For nearly two hundred years the 
proposition slumbered, until, in 1716, the attention of Emanuel 
Swedenborg was called to it by his brother-in-law, Eric Benze- 
lius, at that time librarian of Upsala, afterward archbishop, and 
always a tireless delver after forgotten facts. 

Swedenborgj whose scientific and engineering reputation 
has been discredited by his later claims to seership, was then in 
the service of Charles XII. as "Assessor Extraordinary of the 
College of Mines." To the King he went, full of the plan 
thus suggested to him. His proposal that the project of the 
time of the Great Gustavus should be revived was received with 
eagerness by Charles, for the possession by Denmark of the 
" Sound" had closed the natural exit for Swedish vessels from 
the Baltic. During the succeeding year Swedenborg was sur- 
veying the route for the canal, and in February, 1718, he was 
ordered to undertake the work at the King's expense. The 
death of Charles, on December 11, 1718, put an end to the 
project for a time. 

Swedenborg declared that the Gota Canal " would have 
been the wonder of the world if it had been completed," and 
a recent traveller tells us that having been completed it justly 
ranks as one of the engineering triumphs of the age. From 
the sea level to the summit is one hundred and fifty feet, and yet 
vessels of large size have no trouble in ascending or descending. 
" It is curious to see steamships half way up a hill, as helpless 
as turtles turned on their backs. To stand on the deck and se- 
renely contemplate the watery steps before you, or shuddering- 
ly look at the slippery staircase behind, is very novel and well 
worth a trial. All this happens at Akersvass, where there are 
eleven locks now in use, and several others half ruined the 
remnants of philosopher Swedenborg's plans." * 

In Swedenborg's time the canal does not appear to have pro- 

*Aalesund to Tetuan, a Journey. By Charles R. Corning. Cupples & 


sressed farther than the partial completion of an enormous 
sluice, sixty feet deep. Remains of this are still shown, llus 
sluice and two others were completed by Viman, whose work 
succeeded that of Swedenborg, or rather of Polheirn, Coun- 
cillor of Commerce, and Swedenborg's superior officer in the 
direction of this undertaking. In 1755 the malicious discharge 
of an enormous quantity of timber over the Trolhetta Falls de- 
stroyed the locks and the labor thus far expended was lost. 

For more than half a century the canal waited upon fate 
until it was once more taken in hand, this time by Count von 
Platen. Meanwhile the science of canal building had made 
great progress in Holland and England. Thomas Telford, 
chief of canal builders at that day, had completed the Elsmere 
Canal, joining the Mersey to the Dee and the Severn, and was 
busied with the grander project of the Caledonian Canal, open- 
ing a water-way across the highlands of Scotland from the At- 
lantic to the North Sea. In 1808 Telford was invited to Swe- 
den by Count Platen and made a careful survey for the Gota 
Canal, which presented precisely the same difficulties as those 
lie was contending with in Scotland. 

After working for two months, with a corps of assistants, 
Telford sent to Platen an elaborate report with detailed plans 
and sectional drawings. These were accepted and excavation 
began. In 1810 Telford again visited Sweden to inspect the 
work, leaving this time drawings for the locks and bridges. 
The relations of England to Sweden were so friendly that he 
was permitted to'fnrnish the Swedish contractors with patterns 
of the tools he used in canal making and to provide them with 
experienced lock-makers and navvies from England for the pur- 
pose of instructing the native workmen. 

Thus were the latest results of English engineering experi- 
ence carried into the wilds of Sweden, and brought to the very 
door of the Ericssons, where the busy brain of the boy John was 
already occupied with the study of such mechanical contri- 
vances and engineering undertakings as were within his reach. 

A new career was opening to Sweden. Internal dissensions 
were ended by a grant of the constitution now in force, the 
termination of the royal line by the abdication of the insane 
King Gustavns IY., in 1809, and the death of his uncle and 


successor, Charles XIIL, in the year following. A vigorous 
soldier, Bernadotte, a Marshal of .Napoleon, had assumed au- 
thority over Sweden as elected Crown Prince. The enterprise, 
originated in the time of the first of the great soldiers controll- 
ing Scandinavia, Gustavus I., and commenced by that other 
great military sovereign, Charles XIL, appealed at once to the 
instinct of Bernadotte. Its nature was military no less than 
commercial, for it was essential to the defence of a kingdom 
whose vessels were shut into the narrow Baltic by foreign con- 
trol of the only passage out. The enterprise henceforth pro- - 
ceeded with as much vigor as the circumstances of the times 
would permit, under the direction of the Mechanical Corps of 
the Swedish Navy. 



Autobiographical Account of Ericsson's Early Life. Finds a Friend in 
Count von Platen. Training on the Gota Canal. Death of Erics- 
son's Father. Becomes a Soldier. Military Life in Jerntland. 
Wonderful Gymnastic Skill and Physical Strength. Promoted to 
a Lieutenant cy and Appointed Government Surveyor. Birth of a 
Son. His Flame Engine. 

WHEN" Olof Ericsson, in 1811, removed from Langbans- 
hyttan to Forsvik, in the Ian of Skaraborg or Maries- 
tad, las eldest son, Nils, was nine years old, and John was 
eight. Up to this time the boys appear to have been dependent 
largely upon home instruction for their education. Indeed, in a 
fragment of autobiography left by Mis, he relates that he had 
no other education previous to 1814. This did not agree with 
the recollection of the younger brother, and John's eagerness 
for knowledge in his youth makes him much the more reliable 
witness. A letter in Swedish, addressed in 1879 to a relative 
in Stockholm, gives some interesting particulars of his early 
education. In this John says : 

MY. DEAB HJALMAB: Thanks for your letter of the 26th of April, 
enclosing a copy of Nils Ericsson's autobiography. It was with the 
greatest surprise I read this incomplete and very erroneous account. 
I have also received the biography of the deceased engineer, written by 
Major Adelskold at the request of the Royal Academy of Science. I 
have read with great sorrow and indignation the biography reflecting on 
my father's character and representing him as neglecting the education 
of his sons No reproach could be more unjust. Olof Ericsson made 
all possible sacrifices to giye us a good education. 

To "begin with, he had in his house as a governess during the yeara 
1811 and 1812, Mrs. Malmborg from Vermland, and I remember thank- 
fully all she taughb me. At the same time he gave free board to the 
talented controller who was then employed at the station of Forsvik, 


that he might teach us drawing and the modern English style, which he 
executed in a manner rivalling that of the most skilful engravers. Our 
father also secured for us permission from the chief, Captain Forsell, to 
draw in the office of the draughtsmen of the canal company. Thus I 
secured the opportunity in the year 1811 to make my first drawing to 
the scale. I was also enabled to learn the art of drawing maps, and by 
the end of the year 1812 could make a pretty accurate drawing, had an 
excellent knowledge of drawing instruments and was well skilled in 
their use. 

In the year 1813 my father succeeded in persuading the renowned 
director of instruction, Pohl, to give me lessons in architectural draw- 
ing. During the winter of 1813-14, while we were living at the saw- 
mills of Edet, where my father was commissioned to select the timber 
for the lock gates of the west line of the canal, he kept in his house, as a 
tutor for his sons, Dr. Azelius, a near relative of the celebrated chemist. 

Of course he plagued us with lessons in the Latin grammar, etc., but 
I learned from him many other things of use to me ; for instance, how 
to make and mix, out of materials obtained at the druggist's for a few 
cents, the colors required for my drawings. In the summer of 1814 we 
were living in the parish of Fredsberg, on the beautiful Lefsang, near 
Hajstorp station, where my father held a position next to that of the 
chief of the work. Then he got permission from the Court Chaplain to 
employ the curate at Lefsang to teach his boys French. 

During the same period our indefatigable father succeeded in per- 
suading the greatest mechanical draughtsman at that time in Sweden, 
Lieutenant Brandenburg, of the Mechanical Corps of the Navy, to teach 
us the modern art of shading or finishing off of mechanical drawings. 
The great draughtsman was also good enough to make for us drawings to 
serve as models for our guidance. These I afterward used as patterns 
until I was able in some measure to emulate the master's skill. 

On one of his visits to Lefsang, Lieutenant Brandenburg was accom- 
panied by the skilful Captain J. Edstrom, just returned from England. 
This warm-hearted man took such a liking to Brandenburg's pupils that 
he advised our father to take us, without loss of time, to Count Platen 
and show him our little works. The great man, who was then living at 
Halmatorp, encouraged us with many kind words, and in a few months 
the boys Nils and John Ericsson were appointed cadets in the Mechanical 
Corps of the Swedish Navy. Its uniform we had the honor of wearing 
until the authorities of the company resolved to receive ' Canal Pupils.' 
It was not long after I entered the draughtsman's office of the Canal 
Company at Tatorp before I was able to make, under Captain Edstrom's 
friendly and useful direction, profiles, maps, and working drawings re- 
quired in the construction of the canal. 

As early as the summer of 1815, Captain Edstrom commissioned me 
to make drawings for the archives of the Canal Company, and in the 
year 1816, at the age of thirteen, I was assistant leveller at the station of 



Biddarhagen. In tlie year 1817 I was tlie only leveller at Kottlalms 
station, on tlie west lino of the canal. In 1818, at tlie age of fourteen and 
three-quarter years, I secured the position of leveller on the east line o 
the canal at the station of Norsholm, under the command of Lieutenant 
Byding, chief of the works. My salary was then thirty crowns a month 
with quarters and travelling expenses. 

This extraordinarily quick promotion, the ability to fulfil the du- 
ties of an officer required to make the plans and calculations needed 
for the work of the canal, after comparatively little practice, does not 
bear witness to a neglected education. The want of learning of winch 

Headquarters Gota Canal Company, 

my brother complains I never felt, probably because I devoted all my 
leisure hours to study, while he was occupied with society. It is cer- 
tain that when I entered the Swedish Army in 1820, at the age of seven- 
teen, I would not have exchanged my knowledge for that possessed by 
any oi the youth who had passed their time at the university. "When I 
arrived in England, at the age of twenty-two and three-quarter years, I 
was not only equal, but superior to the English engineers in acquired 
skill. This brief account should be sufficient to refute the accusation 
that Olof Ericsson neglected tlie education of his sons. 

At another time I will give you a fuller account of what his young- 


est son did in Sweden from the time when, in 1809, seventy years ago, 
lie dug liis first mine, twelve inches in depth, and made for it with kis 
little hands, a ladder and windlass, until the day when, in Jemtland, he 
made his final experiment in raising water by means of a vacuum created 
by condensing flame 1 . 

My father wrote a beautiful hand and was an excellent bookkeeper 
and accountant. He possessed keen discernment in mechanical matters 
and was a great admirer of Polhem. Before I was eleven years old, the 
" mining laborer" had, among other things, taught me to construct an 
ellipse, and how to overcome the difficulty connected with the rotary 
motion of the angles by the use of a ball-and-socket joint. The ' ' mining 
laborer " also taught me at the same time how to create a vacuum and 
raise water by the condensation of flame. I shall never forget the joy I 
experienced when my father extinguished the confined flame and I for 
the first time saw the water rising in the glass cylinder. 

Nor is it true that my mother " assisted in providing for her family 
by keeping a restaurant for the laborers.'* My father's salary was suffi- 
cient for the support of his family, but she was persuaded to take as 
boarders the civil and military officers located at Forsvik station during 
the years 1811-12. This charge she fulfilled rather as a hostess than as 
the keeper of a boarding-house, and the result was most unfortunate for 
my father. At the end of the two years he was deeply in debt to the 
tradesmen at Mariestad, who provided groceries for the too liberal 
table. In 1818, after the death of my father, and when her sons were 
officers upon the canal, my mother again undertook to board the officers 
belonging to the different stations. As everybody saw that she set too 
generous a table and was always losing money, she was given permis- 
sion to brew a liquor to sell to the troops. This enabled her to make 
good her losses and to pay the debts she had contracted against her 
husband. I recollect so well the pride with which the sensitive wife 
told me that she had sent the last payment to her husband's creditors. 
"Nobody," she said, "can now insult me by reminding me that they 
have suffered loss of money through my husband." After my father left 
his position at Hajstorp station he was employed at the quarantine sta- 
tion of Kanso, where he died, in the summer of 1818, after a long ill- 
ness, during which he was nursed by my mother. 

Tlie statements o the two brothers can be reconciled by 
assigning that of Nils, concerning his dependence upon his 
mother for his education, to the period preceding his father's 
transfer to work upon tlxe Got& Canal. The Captain Ed- 
strorn referred to in the letter quoted was " Chief of the Cen- 
tral Canal District," and one of the two Swedish engineers, 
Lagerheim being the other, sent by Count Platen to England, 


at the expense of the Canal Company, for the purpose of ob- 
taining exact information concerning the details of canal con- 
struction. These two officers returned in 1815, thoroughly in- 
formed as to the best engineering work of that time, and 
proceeded to instruct a number of pupils, cadets of the Swedish 
Corps of Mechanical Engineers. The Ericsson brothers were 
among these cadets ; John being then eleven years old and Kils 
twelve. Daring the winter of 1816-17 John received lessons 
in chemistry and algebra from Professor Rasl, of local reputa- 
tion, who was engaged upon the canal. He was also taught 
field-drawing and geometry by a German engineer officer, Cap- 
tain Peritz, who was building the fortification of Wanas at the 
mouth of the Gota Canal, on Lake Vettern. He learned Eng- 
lish from the English controller of the works at Ilajstorp 
station, and had the opportunity to practise it with Englishmen 
employed on the canal. 

The particulars I have given of John Ericsson's early edu- 
cation are important in their bearing upon his future career. 
While his eagerness for instruction was extraordinary, and his 
capacity for absorbing knowledge unusual, his opportunity for 
acquirement was also a rare one for that time and place in- 
deed for any time and place combining, as his instruction 
did, the practical and the theoretical. lie learned thoroughly 
the art of presenting his ideas through the medium of mechan- 
ical drawings and made himself independent of models. To a 
friend who once said to him, " It is a pity you did not graduate 
from a technological institute," Ericsson replied, " ]STo, it was 
very fortunate. Had I taken a course at such an institution I 
should have acquired such a belief in authorities that I should 
never have been able to develop originality and make m} r own 
way in physics and mechanics, as I now propose to do.' 7 " The 
end," writes his friend, Count Eosen, in the letter quoted from, 
" has proved your words true." 

Except for the advantageous circumstances of John Erics- 
son's youth his faculties could not have received the early 
development which made possible his sxabsequent achieve- 
ments ; for continually occasions arose when his facility in 
handling the tools of his profession was an important element 
in his success. His extraordinary natural ability having been 


thus developed by early training, he was able to do as much at 
the drawing-board in a given time as two ordinary men. Not 
only did nature endow Ericsson with an aptitude for his cho- 
sen profession amounting to genius, but fortune also favored 
him with exceptional opportunities for early training in its 

The encouragement he received from Platen had also a 
deciding influence in determining Ericsson's future career. 
" Continue as you have begun/' he said to John, " and you will 
one day produce something extraordinary." The lad was not 
one to forget such a greeting. "When nearly seventy years old, 
writing of another who in his youth had shown him similar 
kindness, he said, "I always held him in the greatest es- 
teem ; he often encouraged me, and I have not yet forgotten 
his words. What he said to the warm-hearted boy were not 
empty words, and the grain lie sowed has borne fruit." Even 
at the time he was introduced to Count Platen the future engi- 
neer had astonished the local gossips with a saw-mill, pumping- 
engine, and a set of drawing instruments which he had made, 
11 all out of his own head." Certainly he had no other tools 
than a gimlet and a jack-knife. The saw-mill and pnmp were 
not childish attempts at imitation ; they were practical work- 
ing models, needing only to be repeated upon a larger scale to 
be useful machines. The boy was then only nine years old, 
and we may imagine the delight that transported this youthful 
inventor when he saw the water actually turning the wheel he 
had attached to this mill and setting its miniature machinery 
in motion. 

Half a century later, when John Ericsson was asked to pre- 
pare a list of his most noteworthy mechanical achievements, the 
construction of. this saw-mill headed the list of inventions, the 
pumping-engine and the drawing instruments coming next. 
The mill was neat and tasteful in design and in every way a 
remarkable piece of work for one so young. In a square wood- 
en frame was set a watch-spring, transformed into a saw by the 
aid of a file borrowed from a neighboring blacksmith. This saw 
was moved by a crank cast from a broken tin spoon. The rest 
of the machinery was of wood, and everything was complete 
the bed carrying the log and moved by a cord wound on a 


dram ; the ratdiet-wheel and lever to turn the drum ; the crank- 
shaft and the handle for turning it. 

Encouraged by the success of this venture, the next year 
this lad of ten undertook to design a pump for draining the 
mines of water. The motive power was to be obtained by 
the use of a windmill. Such a contrivance the youthful in- 
ventor had never seen, yet he succeeded in drawing designs 
for his mill after the most approved fashion of skilled engi- 
neers by following a verbal description given by his father of 
a mill he had just visited. But alas, he could conceive of no 
way of adjusting it to the changes of the wind ! Again the fa- 
ther visited a neighboring mill and in describing it referred to 
a " ball-and-socket joint. 5 ' The boy seized the idea at once and 
with his pencil joined the connecting-rod for the driving-crank 
to the pump-lever with a ball-and-socket joint. 

John's visits to the office of the draughtsmen engaged upon 
the plans of the grand ship canal had familiarized him with 
drawing instruments and he imitated them as well as he could. 
His home was in the depths of a pine forest, where his father 
was superintending the selection of timber for the lock-gates of 
the canal ; nothing was to be bought and he had nothing to 
buy with. But the boy was as independent of outside assist- 
ance as the much-contriving Crusoe on his island. Compasses 
were made of birch-wood with needles inserted at the ends of 
the legs; steel tweezers borrowed from his mother's dressing- 
case and ground to a point furnished a drawing pen, the thick- 
ness of the lines being effectually regulated by a thread slipped 
up and down the prongs. 

At that time coloring was deemed essential to the complete- 
ness of mechanical drawings. Gamboge and indigo were at 
hand but no drawing brushes. After many refusals the young 
draughtsman at length secured permission to rob his mother's 
sable cloak of the hairs required for two small brushes, taking 
care that these should be abstracted with such skill that their 
absence would not be revealed. Thus equipped he was able to 
complete his drawing with the wood and iron distinguished by 
appropriate colors. 

It was tin's plan, conceived and executed tinder such circnm 
stances by a mere child, that attracted the attention of Count 


Platen and opened to young Ericsson the career lie was to 
follow with such brilliant results. lie was not precocious, nor 
was he the victim of any process of forcing, but with him the 
comprehension of the science of motion was as intuitive as the 
perception of the harmonies of color with Raphael or those of 
musical expression with Beethoven. 

Seeing his two sons raised to the dignity of cadets in the 
Mechanical Corps of the Navy, and wearing the uniform of his 
Majesty's service, Olof Ericsson was a proud and happy father. 
His sacrifices for his children were rewarded, and their future, 
under the patronage of the powerful Count Platen, then one 
of the most influential of Swedish subjects, seemed assured. 
At this time John also executed a drawing of the Sunder] and 
iron bridge, and this Count Platen, years after, was accustomed 
to show to visitors, when recounting his experience with his 
youthful prodigy. 

The canal opened a new world of mechanical interest to 
John and he was not content to limit himself to the labor and 
study required by his duties as one of the corps of construc- 
tion. After his work for the day was done he would employ 
himself during the long winter evenings with copying the 
plans of the canal and the designs of the machinery and imple- 
ments used in its construction. Of these he had a complete port- 
folio by the time he was fifteen years of age. Still this healthy' 
lad found time for the sports peculiar to the Swedish country 
life, and many years after a friend of his youth wrote to re- 
mind him of the occasion when he saved from drowning one 
of his fellow-pupils on the Gota Canal while they were skat- 
ing on the ice at Motala. 

Upon Europe had just dawned an era of peace destined to 
last for a generation, but its results were not yet apparent and 
Sweden was one of the poorest of European states. It was a 
constant struggle to woo from the sandy soil of the stony penin- 
sula even a scanty harvest of red rye, and the minerals wrested 
from the still more reluctant rock barely sufficed to make good 
the lack of daily food. Accumulation was almost impossible 
and enterprise was paralyzed by the lack of capital to set the 
wheels of industry in motion. " That canal," the people in its 
vicinity were accustomed to say, " is sure to get water in the 


end, for the tears of the stockholders will supply it." The 
changes in the working force were frequent, because of the lack 
of money, but these changes did not disturb the Ericsson boys. 

Though Nils was the elder by a year his position did not 
equal that of John, for he tells us that he was occupied for 
four summers, or until he was seventeen years old, in making 
mortar and in carpenter-work. John, on the contrary, was 
kept at this menial work less than six weeks. In the winter 
the brothers were busied in the draughtsmen's office established 
bv Edstrorn for the instruction of his canal pupils. During 
the long summer days of that high latitude they were occupied 
with out-door work, and John gained such skill that before he 
was fourteen years old six hundred Swedish troops labored upon 
the canal under his direction, though he was still too small to 
reach the eye-piece of his levelling instrument without the aid 
of a stool carried by his attendant. Thus was John Ericsson 
identified almost from his cradle with great engineering works, 
for the Gota Canal was one of the most formidable under- 
takings of its kind. There could be no better school for profes- 
sional training, and for seven years he enjoyed its advantages. 

While the prospects of the sons were daily improving the 
fortunes of the father were on the ebb. His capacity to spend 
was beyond his ability to earn, and the generous-hearted and 
liberal Olof Ericsson was again in pecuniary difficulties. Fail- 
ing health added to his troubles, and the burden of life grew 
too heavy for him. By favor of Count Platen he secured a sit- 
uation in the Quarantine Office at Ivanso, a little island in the 
Kattegat, near Groteborg, arid immediately opposite the north- 
ern extremity of Denmark. Hither he removed, leaving the 
mother with her two boys, who were still employed upon the 
canal. Soon Mrs. Ericsson was called from the care of her 
sons to attend upon her husband, and, in the summer of 1818, 
death ended his unavailing struggle with adverse fortune. 

The death of the father seems to have made but little change 
in the fortunes of the Ericssons. The energetic mother was 
able not only to maintain her family, but, as her son has shown, 
to pay the debts left by her husband. Her sacrifices for her 
children were rewarded by their love and reverence, and neither 
time nor absence could change their feeling toward her. Mrs. 


Ericsson lived until her sons were past middle life, dying in 
1853, at the age of seventy-five. "When her eldest son, Nils, 
married in 1833, she removed to his home, and afterward to 
that of her daughter Caroline, who had married the Rev. J. 
Odner. She was a welcome addition to the household, where 
she occupied herself with the education of her grandchildren, 
and in domestic duties, such as the care of the garden and poul- 
try-yard, for, like her son John, she was always busy. Pier 
passion for reading novels does not appear to have been trans- 
mitted to him, though he did inherit her marked tendency to 
liberality in religious opinions. In spite of this peculiarity, 
Mrs. Ericsson lived pleasantly with her orthodox son-in-law, 
Pastor Odner, whose lines seem to have fallen in pleasant 
places, for his Kectory of Kinnekuna was charmingly situated 
at the base of a mountain of that name, rising from the shores 
of Lake Venern. Here Sophie Ericsson enjoyed a tranquil 
old age, telling her grandchildren, as stories of her sons' achieve- 
ments reached her, of the prophecy that preceded their birth. 

Nils, who most resembled his father, was the mother's fa- 
vorite. He was more fond of pleasure and society than his 
younger brother, less original and aggressive, and more dis- 
posed to follow the beaten track of conservatism than his 
brother John, who was from the beginning searching for some 
new way of doing things, for some novel application of the 
mechanical powers to add new forces to the world's wealth. 
Commenting on a photograph, John once said: "The form of 
the forehead indicates that the man will see things as they are, 
and not as they ought to be, a circumstance that will remove 
obstacles from his path through life." This prophetic instinct 
toward things as they should be was destined to keep him at 
war, so imich of the time, with received opinions on engineer- 
ing subjects. 

In 1820, when Ericsson was seventeen years old, he 
reached a point in his career where two ways parted. "With 
the first suggestion of manly independence dawning in his 
mind he began to rebel against the career laid out for him by 
friends and guardians, though before he had been more than 
content with it. To the home of his widowed mother had come 
as boarders officers, civil and military, at work upon the canal, 


and her house was the rendezvous for the troops under their di- 
rection. Her son was brought into association with those who 
entertained him with stories of the great world ; the world in 
which the Corsican cadet of Brienne had won an empire with his 
sword, and the lawyer's apprentice, Bernadotte, a marshal's 
baton and a crown. Military ambition began to stir in the 
breast of the youth. Although he had worn the king's uniform, 
and had directed the king's troops, it was not as a soldier. lie 
aspired to martial deeds, to break away from the bonds of 
routine, and to lead the life of romance and adventure which, 
to the imagination of the young man, always lies just beyond. 
So he resolved to enter the army. 

Knowing well that his military ambition would receive no 
encouragement from his good friend Platen, boy-like he con- 
cealed his purpose from the Count. "When it was made known 
to Platen he was greatly disturbed and urged upon his young 
protege the importance of continuing a career which opened 
with such promise before him. By every possible argument he 
sought to turn him from his purpose, but in vain. Finally, 
out of all patience with the perverse youth, the Count left him 
with the parting admonition, to "go to the devil." 

The organization of the Swedish army is peculiar. In ad- 
dition to a small body of troops of the line, there is a larger 
force, composed of a sort of peasant yeomanry attached to the 
soil and supported by it, an institution dating from the dis- 
tribution in 1697 of crown lands, subject to an obligation of 
military service. "When not in active service these troops cul- 
tivate their lands, or they are employed by the government in 
constructing roads and fortifications, in draining marshes, dig- 
ging canals, or in other public works. It was to one of these 
regiments, then known as the Twenty-third Regiment Rifle 
Corps, and now as the Royal Fait Zagar, or Field Chasseurs 
of Jemtland, that John Ericsson was assigned with the rank of 
Ensign. The headquarters of the regiment were at Froson, 
near Ostersund, the capital of Jemtland, the Ian of Sweden 
now governed by the second Baron Ericsson, the nephew and 
namesake of John, and eldest son of Nils. The regiment was 
a famous body of riflemen and Ensign Ericsson was soon num- 
bered among its most expert marksmen. 


Just at this period Henrik Ling was introducing into Swe- 
den his scientific system of gymnastics, based upon a study of 
anatomy, and was endeavoring to restore the invigorating cus- 
toms of ancient Scandinavia, where grew such men as Olaf 
Tryggveson, the first Christian king of Norway, who, as Car- 
lyle tells us, " could keep five daggers in the air, always catch- 
ing the proper fifth by its handle, and sending it aloft again ; 
could shoot supremely, throw a javelin with either hand; ex- 
celling also in swimming, climbing, leaping, the then admirable 
Fine Arts of the North ; in all which Tryggveson appears to 
have been the Raphael and the Michael Angelo at once." 

If Ensign Ericsson could not equal this " magnificent far- 
shining man," the Hercules of Scandinavian history, he certain- 
ly was a worthy successor. "With characteristic enthusiasm and 
energy he entered into the sports of his fellows and was soon 
the champion in wrestling, leaping, lifting, and the like. He 
had the bodily strength of two ordinary men. At first his zeal 
outran his discretion and in leaping bars he was again and 
again thrown, hurting himself badly ; but difficulties never dis- 
couraged him. On one occasion while in garrison at Froson, 
across the river from Ostersund, he lifted a cannon weighing 
six hundred pounds, a feat making such an impression on his 
comrades that one of them wrote to remind him of it half a 
century afterward. lie was only eighteen years old when he 
performed this exploit. The effort was too great, and lie suf- 
fered in after life at intervals from the injury to his back re- 
sulting from this supreme effort of strength. On the whole, 
however, he gained greatly from this thorough physical train- 
ing and was noted through life for his vigor and endurance. 

Not in physical feats alone did the young officer excel. lie 
devoted himself with ardor to the study of his new profession 
and, with his previous training to assist, became known almost 
immediately as an expert artillery draughtsman. lie studied the 
science of artillery, too, and familiarized himself with the man- 
ipulation of the eighty-pounders employed on the Baltic gun- 
boats when nothing larger than a forty-pounder was known in 
the American navy. He never lost the interest in military and 
naval subjects then acquired and it was in part the secret of his 
later successes in a field wherein he was supposed to be a novice. 



In a letter to his 
mother, written at this 
period, Ericsson thus 
describes his early ex- 
periences as a soldier : 


VIKEN, August 15, 1821. 

"We have now finished 
our Annual Military Ma- 
noeuvres, which lasted for 
seven weeks. During 
that time I have learned 
tolerably well what it 
means to be a soldier, and 
am inspired with an un- 
changing love for the 
military profession. Our 
colonel has just left for 
Stockholm. As we part- 
ed I reminded him of his 
promise. "I will keep 
my promise to you," he 
said, "and the drawing 
you gave me I shall pre- 
sent to the King at the 
first audience. He cer- 
tainly will appoint you an 
officer ; at any rate, you 
are sure to be promoted." 
He also told me he wished 
me to pass my examina- 
tion in the art of land 
surveying ; for this rea- 
son I shall be obliged to 
spend the winter in 
Stockholm, whatever my 
means may be. The ex- 
penses will, I fear, be 
heavy enough, as I must buy geodetical instruments ; besides, the pat- 
tern of our new uniform is now fixed, and in consequence I must get 
a green coat with epaulettes, new uniform trousers, epaulettes for the 
dress-coat, scales for the shako, anew s word of the special pattern of 
our regiment, a scarf and other small military ornaments. I must also 

Lieutenant John Ericsson, Jemtland Field Chasseurs. 


pay for my commission. Now, I don't mention all this to cause you 
anxiety, dearest mother, only to show you that I really have necessary 
expenses and do not spend my money carelessly and to no purpose. 

I think I can defray most of the charges myself, but if you could 
spare fifty rixdollars early in the winter without inconvenience, I should 
be glad to have them. However, if you are short of money, I should 
consider myself unworthy to be called your son if I ever thought of such 
a thing. I know your business is getting along well now ; still I feel 
almost ashamed of my request and I am really grieved to think that, old 
as I am, I have many times been forced to solicit the assistance of a 
mother who has to work for every farthing without aid. I know, how- 
ever, the kindness of my mother's heart ! "No sacrifice is too great when 
the happiness of my child is concerned," you think. "What a blessing to 
have a mother with such sentiments ! I have about one hundred and 
seventy-five rixdollars left out of the money you gave me, and I expect 
some more from Captain Edstrom. By careful economy I can manage 
to get on until I receive my salary, when I shall be quite comfortable, 
for with eleven hundred and twenty-five a year I shall be able to save 
money for a lieutenant's commission and pay my debts to you. 

With God's help, I hope to be appointed a lieutenant within two 
years' time, for there are only four second lieutenants in advance of me, 
and many vacancies just now. I am the oldest staff ensign of those who 
are to be officers at the same time as I. 

With the heartiest wishes for your happiness, and kindest regards for 
my brother and sister, I remain, 

Tour obedient and loving son, 


P. S. At present I board in a farm-house very cheaply. I am study- 
ing Euclid. Later on I am going to practise plotting under the Sur- 
veying General, as it requires a certificate to show that I can measure 
and map before I am allowed to pass my examination. My kind regards 
to Halstrom ; I long impatiently for a letter from him. 

Jemtland, where young Ericsson's regiment was stationed, 
and with which the fortunes of his family have now been asso- 
ciated for two generations, is a mountain district, lying two 
hundred miles further north than Verrnland, and it is even 
more striking in natural scenery, being the location of the 
highest mountains of Sweden. From the hills of " beautiful 
Froson," a little town divided from Ericsson's station by a nar- 
row channel spanned by a wooden bridge, a splendid view of 
the greater part of the northern portion of Sweden is to be ob- 
tained. In the foreground is the picturesque lake, or rather net- 


work of lakes, called " Storsjon," numerous wooded islands dot, 
ting its surface, and beyond, to the west, the " dark Oviks" fur- 
nish a sombre background, until they blend in the distant ho- 
rizon with the mountains whose huge peaks seem to stand like 
a wall of separation between the two kingdoms of Sweden and 
Norway. To the north stretches an immense wilderness where, 
in Ericsson's day, roamed the Laplanders with their herds of 
reindeer. To the south lies a charming landscape of hill and 
dale, intersected by numerous watercourses, lakes smiling in 
the sun, and foaming brooks plunging down the steep hill- 
sides to disappear in the green-clad valleys beyond. 

In other sections of Sweden the valleys near the high moun- 
tains are uncultivated and almost uninhabited ; here they sup- 
port a thrifty population. The general character of Jemtlaml 
is that of a highland nearly a thousand feet above the sea level. 
It is as far north as Hudson Straits, or Southern Greenland 
and Iceland, and nowhere else is there to be found in a cor- 
responding latitude, with an equal elevation, a section so highly 
cultivated as this has been from time immemorial. Rich 
meadows furnish pastures for the herds that constitute the chief 
wealth of the people. The eighteen churches which can be 
counted from a mountain on the southern shores of Lake Stor- 
sjon testify to the extent and character of the population now 
under the government of Ericsson's nephew. 

The recommendation for Ensign Ericsson's promotion went 
to Stockholm in due course, but unfortunately his colonel, Baron 
Koskull, was in disgrace at court, arid the recommendation was 
not heeded. The young Duke of Upland, Uernadotto's son, in- 
terceded with the king, winning his interest in Ericsson by 
showing his soldier-father a military map made by the ensign. 
This not only secured the desired commission of a second lieu- 
tenant, but it also directed the attention of Bernadotte to the 
great skill of Ericsson in this work. As a result, later on he 
was summoned to the royal palace to draw maps to illustrate 
the campaigns of the Marshal of the Empire. 

A comrade of this period, Major Iljarne, who survived Erics- 
son, describes the young officer as " a noble lad, frank, faithful, 
and honest." He was never given to promiscuous acquaintance, 
but with his little circle of intimates he was a special favorite. 


His temper was hasty, but his disposition was lively, cheerful, 
and amiable. Major lljarne recalls the picture of him as he lay 
extended on the floor of his quarters, " eating sugar and enjoy- 
ing himself like a merry school-boy, for he was very fond of 
sweets." Not a strictly personal characteristic, for he was at 
that time a lad not yet out of his teens. Still, it was a taste 
that he never outgrew, and three score and ten years later, 
there was found in his room, after his death, the little store of 
the sweetmeats winch he always kept by him. "He was ex- 
ceedingly active," we are further told, " always inventing, de- 
signing, constructing." 

Young Ericsson had made such excellent use of the instruc- 
tion in topographical drawing received from the German engi- 
neer officer Pentz, that when he entered the Swedish army he 
found no one to excel him, with the exception of one officer, 
Major Sodennark, who was renowned in this department. Soon 
after he joined the service orders were given to survey the 
district of Jemtland in which he was stationed. Officers to 
perform this work were selected by a competitive" examination 
at Stockholm, and in this contest Ericsson easily won a prize. 
The pay in his new employment was determined by the amount 
accomplished, and the young surveyor from the Gota Canal 
was so indefatigable in his industry and so rapid in execution, 
that he performed double duty and was carried on the pay-roll 
as two persons in order to avoid criticism and charges of favor- 
itism. The results of his labors were maps of fifty square miles 
of territory, still preserved in the archives at Stockholm. 

Even this double duty was not sufficient to satisfy the rest- 
less energy and activity of the young chasseur, for in this high 
northern latitude he could protract his work at the drawing- 
board through the entire night, and this he frequently did, 
without resort to artificial light, except for a few hours. As 
occupation for his "leisure" he bethought himself of the 
sketches and mechanical drawings he had accumulated during 
his service under Count Platen. He decided to use them in 
a work he proposed to prepare for publication, containing a 
full description of the machinery and methods used in canal 
work, the locks, and the various appliances for transporta- 
tion. He enlisted in this enterprise Major Pentz, late pro- 


fessor at Rostock, Germany, and probably the officer of the 
same name from whom his lessons in topographical drawing 
had been received. Pentz was to translate the work into Ger- 
man to give it foreign currency. 

It was necessary to engrave the drawings selected to illustrate 
the book, and Lieutenant Ericsson determined to do this work 
himself. So he obtained leave of absence and hastened to 
Stockholm where he applied to one of the best engravers for 
permission to inspect Ins tools, and was laughed at for his sim- 
plicity in supposing that he was to be thus permitted to learn 
the mysteries of the craft. Nothing daunted he hastened to 
his room and set busily to work devising a machine for engrav- 
ing. This he was soon able to show in triumph to the disoblig- 
ing craftsman. Back to his station he went with his new ma- 
chine and commenced work upon the sixty-five plates of copper 
carried with him. Within a year he had completed eighteen 
plates, averaging in size fifteen by twenty inches. One of these 
plates, the second one completed, was reproduced in a Swedish 
illustrated magazine and is given here. In acknowledging the 
receipt of a copy of this Ericsson said : " I remember very well 
the surprise of certain engravers at the sharp white edges of the 
pump-rods against the dark ground. The plan of rubbing these 
parts with a fine varnish before the plates were prepared for the 
aqua fortis, which suggested itself to the beginner, enabled him 
to surpass the work of experienced artists." 

Other occupations delayed the book, and before it had gone 
farther it became apparent that the swift changes in the ap- 
plications of machinery and the use of new methods were render- 
ing the knowledge acquired at Gota out of date. So this un- 
dertaking was abandoned. Major Pentz never got farther than 
the preface with his part of the work, but as he had advanced 
some money to purchase the copper plates, the completed en- 
gravings were all turned over to him in settlement of this ac- 
count. Busy as he was, the ardent young Swede found time 
for sentiment, for this was the romantic period "in the young 
man's life. During it Ericsson established friendships and 
developed enthusiasms which continued with him to the end. 
More than fifty years after, when his knowledge of Swedish had 
grown somewhat rusty from disuse, he wrote home to Sweden : 


"Overwhelmed with work, I have not had the time to write the 
description you ask for in my native tongue. I can think in 
English four times faster than I can write in Swedish, and 
write four times faster than I can think. As, now, 4 x 4 = 16 
you will find my excuses sufficient. But this is only the case in 
mechanical matters, because when the language of the heart is 
to be used I prefer to express myself in my native tongue. Al- 
though ignorant of all that properly belongs to mechanical phi- 
losophy when I left Sweden, I was by no means inexperienced in 
the language of feeling. I sometimes wrote poetry to the won- 
derful ancf enchanting midnight light of Norrland. Connois- 
seurs of ten doubted that it came from the second lieutenant and 
surveyor np among the mountains." Norrlaud is within less 
than three degrees of the Arctic circle, and there the phenome- 
non of the midnight sun is to be seen in perfection. 

Human nature Is the same under the Arctic circle as in the 
torrid zone; indeed, as Ericsson was fond of arguing, the con- 
ditions of life iu high latitudes are even more exciting. He 
was a man of ardent temperament, and his veins, through life, 
were always swollen to bursting with the swift-flowing current 
of healthy masculine vitality. The glories of the midnight 
sun could inspire him with poetry, but the sparkling eyes of 
the Jeintland maidens moved him still more profoundly. To 
one of these the young lieutenant became deeply attached. She 
was of an ancient and noble family, and her father was an of- 
ficer of high rank. To her Ericsson was betrothed, with those 
formalities which, in Swedish opinion at that time, imposed the 
obligations of marriage, and were not infrequently extended to 
include its sanctions as well. Indeed, under early Scandinavian 
law, a betrothal without marriage secured rights of inheritance 
to a child born of such a connection that did not belong to the 
child of a marriage not preceded by betrothal. 

The laws of Sweden regulating the marriage of army officers 
were exacting, and made impossible a legal union between a 
poor lieutenant and a maiden whose womanly charms and her 
excellent birth were her only dower. Precisely how the pair 
stood related to one another from our point of view cannot, at 
this distance of time, be determined. The connection was sub- 
sequently dissolved, and being free, the young woman married 

Ericsson at the Age of Twenty-one, 


another Swede of distinguished reputation, and lived to old age 
as his wife. One son, Iljalmar, was born at this time, and was 
left in charge of Ericsson's mother in Sweden when he removed 
to England. This child was well educated, and became a man 
highly respected and holding a prominent position in govern- 
ment employ. Ericsson at the age of twenty-one is described 
as a handsome, dashing youth, with a cluster of thick, brown, 
glossy curls encircling his white, massive forehead. His mouth 
was delicate but firm, nose straight, eyes light blue, clear and 
bright, with a slight expression of sadness, his complexion bril- 
liant with the freshness and glow of healthy youth. The broad 
shoulders carried most splendidly the proud, erect head. He 
presented, in short, the very picture of vigorous manhood. A 
portrait of him at this age, painted upon ivory for his mother 
by an English artist named Way, has been preserved and is 
reproduced here. 

Recalling his father's experiments, Ericsson at this time 
conceived the idea that flame might be used in a receiver cor- 
responding to the cylinder of a steam engine. Thus he hoped 
to obtain power equal to that of steam with less expenditure 
of time and fuel. Devoting to this project such leisure as he 
had, he finally succeeded in constructing a machine to illustrate 
his principle. He set it in motion, and to his delight discov- 
ered that it worked perfectly and produced several horse-power. 
Dreams of a coming revolution in the mechanical world occu- 
pied his waking thoughts. He prepared a paper, a translation 
of which now lies before me, entitled, "A Description of a New 
Method of Employing the Combustion of Fuel as a Moving 
Power." This was written in Swedish, and sent, in 1825 or 
1826, to the newly-organized " Institution of Civil Engineers," 
London, where a translation of it is still filed among the ar- 
chives, " No. 119." 



Bemoves to London. His Promotion and Eesignation as a Swedish 
Officer. Becomes a Partner of John Braithwaite. First Use of 
Compressed Air and Artificial Draught. His Novel Applications of 
Steam-power. Invents Surface Condensation. Quarrels with Sir 
John Boss. Invents the Steam Fire-engine. Prejudices of the 
London Firemen against it. 

WITH the invention of the Flame Engine a new era opened 
before John Ericsson. If the dreams suggested by this 
first appeal to the judgment of the great world were not des- 
tined to literal fulfilment they were at least prophetic of his 
future. Military life lost its zest, and he turned from it, as he 
had turned to if, with characteristic impatience of control. 
King Charles John, when shown his drawings, had advised 
him to go abroad, as his own country could not reward him as 
he deserved. This advice was given now with more effect by 
one of Ericsson's brother officers, who, in a letter written forty- 
seven years afterward, said : "I remember the ensign, by whom 
I was so struck that I asked my brother officers to accept him 
as a comrade, and urged the colonel to secure his promotion. 
I could not bear the thought of his- genius burying itself in 
Jemtland, and when I heard of his attachment 'for a poor girl 
I considered him lost to the world if he should settle there. 
I advised him to go to England. He at once replied that I 
ought not to have awakened a thought that had long slumbered 
within him when I knew that his want of means made it im- 
possible for him to realize his ambition. < How much do you 
need to start out with ? ' I asked. He answered, ' I could go 
in a fortnight if I had a 'thousand crowns.' I asked him to 
draw a note for this sum ; this I endorsed and took to the bank, 
and a fortnight later he had the money." 


Leave of absence was obtained, and the bright young lieu- 
tenant, who had been the pride of the Royal Chasseurs, turned 
his face toward England, carrying with him the hearty good 
wishes of his comrades and their honest regrets at parting. On 
his way through Stockholm he spent a week in the capital, par- 
ticipating in the festivities attending the birth, on May 3, 1826, 
of the heir to the throne, afterward Charles XV. of Sweden 
and Norway. 

The snow was melting from the mountains and the birches 
were budding in the valleys when John Ericsson left the na- 
tive land he never ceased to love, to seek elsewhere the op- 
portunities she was too poor to offer him. What possibili- 
ties were too great in the wider field that opened before this 
vigorous young genius, with a thousand crowns in his pocket 
and a substitute for the steam-engine among his luggage? 
Arriving in England on Friday, May 18, 1826, Ericsson pro- 
ceeded as soon as possible to exhibit his wonderful Flame En-' 
gine in operation. It worked satisfactorily under the condi- 
tions intended, but unexpected difficulties arose when he was 
compelled to use coal instead of the resinous woods, so abun- 
dant in his native forests. ,Coal burned too slowly, and in place 
of the gentle flame gave out a fierce heat that speedily destroyed 
the working parts of the engine. 

This was no light misfortune for the young man whose hopes 
were centred in the venture. Even a thousand crowns will 
not last forever, especially where the money is borrowed, and 
to the expenses of travel were added the cost of setting up and 
exhibiting his machine. Cynical criticism succeeded to the 
friendly admiration he had received at home, and the necessity 
of securing an income speedily convinced him that it was use- 
less to give further attention to the Flame Engine; so he turned 
his back for a time upon his ambitious sfcheme of superseding 
steam. He was compelled to seek employment, and almost be- 
fore he knew it, was committed to remain in England. Appar- 
ently, he had obtained leave of absence with the intention of 
resigning from the Swedish service. For some reason he 
seems to have overstayed his leave, and was technically in the 
position of a deserter. Through the intervention of his friend, 
the Crown Prince, he was honorably restored to the service 


by the issue to him on October 3, 1827, of a commission 
as captain in the Swedish Army. This commission he resigned 
on the same day. The peculiar circumstances under which it 
was received appear to have given the title of Captain special 
value in his eyes, and he used it until the end of his life. 

If the immediate purpose of Ericsson's transfer to England 
was not accomplished, his introduction to another field of ac- 
tivity was timely. A new era was opening to English engi- 
neers, and for this the young Swede's peculiar abilities and 
special training exactly fitted him. It was the characteristic 
of his mind, as I have said, to see things as they ought to be, 
and not as they are. His spirit of adventure into new regions 
was as indomitable as that of the Norse rovers from whom he 
inherited his mental constitution. All things in the engineering 
world were to be made new, and there was need of men able 
to discard the teachings ; of precedent without substituting 
the conceit of ignorance. To England Ericsson carried his 
wonderful physique, his magnificent brain, an unusual train- 
ing in the technique of his profession, and a capacity for work 
which was in itself genius. The Flame Engine had not re- 
alized the expectations of the Non-land garrison, but in it were 
the germs of ideas destined to grow and produce fruit. 

There was something about the young man that inspired con- 
fidence in those brought into personal contact with him. To 
the ingenuousness of youth he added the experience of man- 
hood, and the lieutenant of twenty-three was too obviously a 
master in his profession to be kept long in waiting. lie was 
fortunate enough to establish himself almost immediately in 
intimate relations with the machine manufacturing house of 
John Braithwaite, and soon after he became the junior partner 
in the firm of " Braithwaite & Ericsson." "It was my good 
fortune," he tells us, to meet with Mr. Braithwaite's approba- 
tion and friendship. In the various mechanical operations we 
carried out together I gained experience which, but for the con- 
fidence and liberality of Mr. B., I probably never should have 
acquired. I am happy to acknowledge having, during our 
labors, benefited much by his exquisite taste in the arts." * 

Ericsson was not idle during the eighteen months interven- 
* Letter to the editor of the London Builder, April 23, 18G3. 


ing between his arrival in England and the acceptance of his 
resignation as an officer of the Swedish army. Turning from 
his Flame Engine, he attempted to combine steam with the 
gases arising from the combustion of coal, and patented an 
engine constructed on this plan. This patent was assigned to 
a fellow-countryman, Count Adolph E. Von Kosen. 

Next he took a step farther in the direction of the future en- 
gine, and attached a fire-place underneath a piston so as to 
actuate it by the expansion of the air and communicate suction 
to a working piston. An engine on this plan was patented and 
a model erected at Limehouse, 1827. A motive engine of the 
same general character was also put in operation at Limehouse 
in the same year. In this the fire-place was fixed, at the bottom 
of an eigh teen-inch cylinder, and through the fire air was forced 
so as to expand by heat and at the same time combine with the 
gases from combustion. A loosely fitting piston moved up and 
down in this cylinder and set in motion a sixteen-inch working 

A difficult problem of mine draining presented itself. To 
solve it Ericsson invented and patented a pumping-engine con- 
sisting of a series of cisterns rising one above the other. By 
exhausting the air from these in succession the water was lifted 
to the desired height. The patent for this was taken out in the 
name of, and assigned to Charles Seidler, who introduced the 
first steamer on the Hhine and into whose family Ericsson 
afterward married. In 1828 Ericsson constructed and put 
into successful operation at the tin mines near Truro, in Corn- 
wall, an air compressor having an air-cylinder of twenty inches 
diameter and five feet stroke. This operated a machine for 
raising water from a mine shaft situated off shore at a con- 
siderable distance from the point on the land where the actuat- 
ing steam-engine and compressing cylinder were placed.* 

Upon this invention Ericsson founded his claim to priority 
in the use of compressed air for transmitting power. His 
friend, Count Yon Rosen, showed his unbounded confidence 
in the abilities of his young countryman, by investing 10,000 
in this last invention, in the days when fifty thousand dollars 
was no small sum. 

* Letter of Ericsson to Horace Day, October 13, 1873. 


Ericsson accepted in the beginning the conclusion, now uni- 
versal, that a substitute must be found for the wasteful steam- 
engine. His studies by day and his dreams by night were oc- 
cupied with the problem as to how he might bestow upon his 
race the priceless boon of a new work-compelling force. Still, 
the improvement and adaptation of the steam-engine was the 
business immediately in hand, and this was not neglected. 
In the month signalized by the birth of Ericsson in Verm- 
land Eobert Fulton completed at Paris the trial of his first ex- 
perimental steamboat. In 1819, while the young Swede was 
at work on the Gota Canal, the Atlantic was crossed for the 
first time by a steam vessel, the Savannah, which made a fly- 
ing visit to Stockholm, where he may have seen it. By the 
time he reached England the steam fleet of Great Britain had 
increased to two hundred vessels, and the promising field of 
engineering enterprise offered by steam navigation opened 
before him. He was quick to perceive the deficiencies of the 
existing machinery and prompt in suggesting remedies. To 
hasten the sluggish fires under the boilers was a prime neces- 
sity. On this speed depended. A boiler was invented with an 
attachment of bellows or centrifugal blowers to produce artificial 
draughts. This principle of artificial draught was patented 
in England, in 1828, a year before Stephenson made his repu- 
tation by the application of the same principle to the Rocket 
in connection with Booth's tubular boiler. The tubular prin- 
ciple Ericsson also anticipated, for his boiler contained twenty 
copper tubes and an internal furnace. It economized fuel, and 
was so much smaller and lighter than other boilers that new 
applications of steam-power were made possible. Patents were 
also taken out for this in England, France, Sweden, and other 

An opportunity to test the new boiler soon offered itself. 
In 1827 Captain John lioss, who had made one unsuccessful 
attempt to discover a Northwest passage, endeavored to in- 
duce the British- Government to equip another expedition to 
the Arctic seas under his command. Failing in this, he finally 
persuaded a liberal London distiller, Mr. Felix Booth, to fur- 
nish eighteen thousand pounds to equip an expedition. Mr. 
Booth was subsequently made a baronet for his liberality, 


served a term as Sheriff of London, and had the honor of giv- 
ing his name to the arctic region known as " Boothia Felix." 

An important part of the business of Braithwaite & Erics- 
son at this time was that of constructing refrigerators and cool- 
ers for the mammoth London breweries and distilleries. This 
brought them in contact with Mr. Booth, and through him 
they made the acquaintance of Captain Ross, who was fitting 
up with new machinery an old side-wheel steamer he had pur- 
chased for his expedition and named the Victor]/. Hoss fell 
in love with the new boiler and ordered one for his vessel, to 
accompany a marine engine' of eighty horse-power. To this 
was applied a "surface condenser" of Ericsson's invention. 
The success attending Ericsson's efforts to condense steam, 
in connection with his brewery and distillery experiences, sug- 
gested the idea of adapting the same machinery to steam ves- 
sels, as a substitute for the plan then in vogue for cooling 
the steam by discharging into it jets of cold water. In his new 
condenser the steam was passed through a series of horizontal 
copper tubes, collected iu a boiler or evaporator into which 
sea water was driven by a force-pump. This condenser was 
operated upon the well-known principle that steam of some- 
what less than one-half atmospheric pressure will cause water 
to boil rapidly in a vacuum. 

It was almost impossible to keep the condensers then in use 
clear of water and preserve a vacuum in a marine engine, when 
it was moving slowly in heavy weather, and it was then, if ever, 
that perfect action was needed. As the ratio of condensing 
surface increased in Ericsson's condenser in proportion as the 
steam diminished, it was the most efficient when the engine 
slowed down. In reference to this invention he said, May 16, 
1868, in a private letter to John Bourne, the author of a work 
upon the " Steam Engine," who applied to him for information : 
"I claim, to be practically the inventor of surface condensa- 
tion applied to steam navigation." Various methods of con- 
densing the steam had been tried, but nothing had been found 
to supersede the plan of bringing the steam into contact with 
jets of water. Watt, Cartwright, Napier, Trevithick, Syming- 
ton, Mills, and many others in England failed in the attempt to 
apply the plan of condensing by the application of cold water to 


the outside of the vessel containing steam. Mr. Hale, of Bas- 
ford, did finally succeed, and claimed priority for his invention, 
in ignorance of Ericsson's successful application of the prin- 
ciple a dozen years before. "The high-pressure boilers of 
the Victory, said Ericsson, " would have been destroyed in a 
single day but for the application of the surface condenser." 
" The condenser/' says John Scott Kussell, " is the most wonder- 
ful part of the marine engine, as indeed of the ordinary steam- 
engine. It is here that the whole process carried on. in the 
boiler in so great bulk, and at so much expense, is instantly 
reversed, and all its laborious effects are at once annihilated. 
Without a condenser of some form the development of the 
steam-engine would have been impossible. " Ericsson's conden- 
ser made it possible, also, to use in steam navigation tubular 
boilers, on which so much depends. 

Into the Victory Ericsson also introduced the plan, after- 
ward universally adopted in war vessels, of putting the machin- 
ery below the water-line to protect it from shot. Fearful of 
being anticipated, Boss concealed his intention of making an- 
other voyage to the Arctic zone. Ericsson supposed he was fit- 
ting out a vessel of war for experimental purposes, and " in 
experimenting," as he was accustomed to say, " complication is 
not regarded, since the intention generally is to ascertain facts 
and effects never known, for guidance in future practice." 
Eor the purpose intended the machinery of the Victory was 
wholly unsuited, as its designer well knew. Boss concluded 
that its room was better than its company and tumbled it into 
the depths of the Arctic waters, where it may, in some post- 
glacial age, furnish proof that the Esquimaux had advanced 
ideas upon the subject of steam navigation. 

Eighteen months after his return to England, in September, 
1833, and six years after the Victory sailed, Sir John published 
a narrative of his voyage, and then Ericsson for the first time 
learned that he was most unfairly held responsible for the fail- 
ure of Boss's second attempt to discover a Northwest passage. 
He called his detractor to account in a vigorous letter, and Mr. 
Booth was compelled to interfere to prevent a duel that threat- 
ened, for Ericsson charged Boss with an " utter f orgetf ulness of 
justice and candor "in dealing with him and Mr. Braithwaite. 


To steam machinery wholly unstated to the purpose intend- 
ed Captain Ross added further complications in the shape of 
gearing and paddle-boxes, described by Ericsson as " a perfect 
specimen of ignorance of the laws which should be consulted in 
the construction of bodies intended to move through water." 
A specific contract had been entered into as to the amount of 
power the engines were to furnish, but when the vessel was put 
into the water from the dry-dock, she drew three feet more 
than was intended. Captain Ross was unfair enough to as- 
cribe the consequent diminution of speed to want of sufficient 
engine power, in spite of the fact, obvious to every one, that 
his paddle-wheels were half immersed in water, besides being 
boxed in such a way as to prevent a free current to and from 
the wheels, which were themselves constructed on a false prin- 
ciple. Undoubtedly a great mistake was made in fitting out 
the Victory with new and untried machinery, but this was in 
accordance with Captain Ross's own orders, and he, and not 
Ericsson, was responsible for the result. 

The letter setting forth these facts appears to have been 
signed by Braithwaite, but the rough draft of it in Ericsson's 
hand-writing is found among his papers, with erasures and 
changes showing it to be the original document. Ericsson was 
accustomed to state his opinions with sufficient frankness, espe- 
jcially in his hot youth, and he was by no means reserved in his 
characterization of what he declared to be deceit practised by 
Captain Ross. After describing one of his misrepresentations, 
Ericsson said : " The deception had been so well kept up that 
there was no occasion for this fresh lie to mislead us." This is 
not the kind of language that captains in the royal navy were 
accustomed to receive with equanimity, in the days when Wel- 
lington fought with Winchelsea, and Benjamin Disraeli chal- 
lenged O'Connell, and the other party to the contention having 
a military reputation to sustain it is not strange that this dis- 
pute should have threatened to end in bloodshed. 

As soon as Messrs. Braithwaite & Ericsson learned the 
purpose to which the Victory was to be applied, and thus for 
the first time realized the mistake they had been led into, they 
exerted themselves to the utmost to correct her deficiencies, 
spending night after night personally upon the vessel, "to 


make good," as Ericsson said, "as far as lay in our power, the 
baneful effect of the wanton deception practised upon us." They 
also kept their men at work night and day at a heavy expense. 
Hence they were naturally impatient of the charges of "gross 
neglect so freely brought against them by Captain Ross." 

^Whatever the deficiencies of the Victory as a vessel for 
Arctic voyaging, she marks a stage in the development of the 
modern warVessel, and the ideas introduced into her, with the 
intention of fitting her for naval service, have since become 
common in the construction of machinery for war ships. The 
engines of the Victory were at the bottom of a frozen sea, but 
the experience of the young engineer acquired in adapting them 
to their supposed use was of great value to him in his subse- 
quent career as a naval constructor. 

The year 1828, noted for the advancement made in naval 
construction, was signalled by another revolutionary invention 
by Ericsson. This was the steam fire-engine which is now in uni- 
versal use, substituting machinery for the workers at the polls 
who for so many years made the streets of our principal cities 
hideous with their noisy rivalry and oftentimes bloody con- 
tentions. The "fire laddies " had certain prescriptive rights, 
for they were an ancient, if not a time-honored institution ; 
even Borne was disturbed in the time of Pliny by the rivalry 
of her various companies of matricularii. Fights were com- 
mon among the London firemen previous to the year 1830, 
and the methods of extinguishing fires showed HO great ad- 
vance upon the use of the early " divers squirts and petty en- 
gines to be drawn upon wheels, from place to place, for to 
quench fire among buildings." The chief advances had been 
in the introduction of the air-chamber in fire-engines by the 
German, Leupold, about 1720, the adoption of the system of 
arranging two sets of men on a hand-engine, one above the 
other, by Richard JsTewsham in 1725, and the use of flexible de- 
livery hose so that the engines could be removed far enough 
from the fire to prevent their being burned up, as they fre- 
quently were before. 

Some of the fire-engines and implements brought from Hol- 
land -by King William III., when he landed in Torbay in 1688, 
were in 1828 still to be found in the public buildings of London. 


The engines of Ericsson's time required some sort of a reservoir 
from which to suck the water, arid it was the custom of the 
London firemen to supply this by tearing a great hole in the 
street to gather water, with the necessary result of filling the 
suction hose with stones and dirt. 

Thrice had London been nearly destroyed by fire, Astley's 
Theatre had been three times burnt, Drury Lane, Covent Gar- 
den, and the Surrey, each twice, and the Lyceum and Italian 
Opera once each. As these conflagrations were largely the re- 

The First Steam Fire Engine, 1829. 

suit of insufficient fire service, it seemed obvious to young 
Ericsson's enthusiastic mind that a steam fire-engine was cer- 
tain of immediate adoption. He first designed one in 1828, 
for experimental purposes, and it proved entirely successful, 
throwing jets of water, varying from one inch to one and one- 
quarter inch in diameter, to the tops of the highest chimneys 
of breweries. Into this engine was introduced the artificial 
draught boiler, supplying the air for combustion by the recip- 
rocating blowing machine worked by the engine when in oper- 

The experimental engine was followed by another, mounted 
on 'alight frame and suspended on springs, so that it could be 


run over tlie pavements without jar. This too proved a perfect 
success on its first trial, and shortly after its completion the 
memorable conflagration at the Argyle Booms gave opportunity 
for proving in actual practice its great superiority over the 
engines then in use. The service of the engine was offered gra- 
tuitously, and the insurance companies showed their apprecia- 
tion of the courtesy by presenting Mr. Braithwaite's men with 
the magnificent testimonial of one sovereign. The night was 
cold and the hand-engines became quickly frozen up and use- 
less, but the steamer worked incessantly for five hours with- 
out a hitch, throwing its stream clear over the dome of the 

Another opportunity for testing the fire-engine occurred 
soon after, when Barclay's brewery was burned and Ericsson's 
engine was borrowed and kept at work day and night for a 
month, without interruption, pumping and starting the beer 
from the different vats in the establishment. It was after- 
ward taken on a sort of starring tour to France, where it was 
used with great success in several towns, and from there to 
Russia, where similar results followed its trial. , 

A third engine was built for the Liverpool Docks, and 
used for many years in extinguishing fires and in other opera- 
tions requiring the pumping of large quantities of water. A 
fourth, of beautiful construction, called the Comet, was built 
for the King of Prussia in 1832, and Berlin was the first con- 
tinental city to supply this means of extinguishing fires. 

The fire-engine made by Braithwaite & Ericsson, with its 
substitution of steam for hand power, was the first distinct de- 
parture in principle from the engines in use, in one form and 
another, at various periods since the beginning. The oldest 
fire-engine of which we have any account is described by Hero 
in his u Spiritalia," B.C. 150, and the description answers very 
well for the ordinary form of hand-engine displaced by the 
steam-engine. This early engine had the air-chambers and two 
single acting pumps, worked by a beam moved by brakes and 
uniting their two streams in a common discharge, connected 
with a nozzle capable of being turned in any direction. 

When an American hand-engine was first taken to Constan- 
tinople, many years ago, the Pasha viewed its performance with 


admiration, but exclaimed at the end, " Mashallah ! very good, 
but it will require a sea to supply it with water. It won't do 
for us, for there is no sea in the middle of the city." So he 
decided to continue the use of his squirts, arid to follow the re- 
ceived method of letting the fire spread until the wind changed 
or it could find nothing more to destroy. A similar objection 
was raised to Ericsson's invention, known from the manufact- 
urer as " Braithwaite's engine." Speaking of it, an authority 
says : " The engine of Mr. Braithwaite, although most success- 
ful in its working and adaptability to the purpose to which it 
was designed, met with the usual opposition which all really 
useful or important introductions seem destined to encounter, 
and his proposals for bringing them into general use in Lon- 
don met with the most determined hostility. First, it was 
urged that to be good for anything it must constantly have a 
fire alight or the steam kept up, as it would otherwise take too 
long to bring it into operation ; then it was too powerful for 
common use, too heavy for rapid travelling, and required larger 
supplies of water than could be obtained in London streets.' 
This in spite of the fact that Ericsson's engine had worked for 
five hours at the Argyle fire when the other engines were frozen 
up. Even if the steam fire-engines < could get water,' it would 
not be desirable to use them, as the quantity of water thrown 
by them might be injuriously applied and cause mischief. 
In short, the managers of the fire brigade declined to en- 
tertain Mr. Braithwaite's proposals, and their servants perpe- 
trated every possible annoyance toward Mr. Braithwaite when 
they met him with his engine at fires, which he for a long time 
attended gratuitously, so that ultimately he withdrew in dis- 
gust from the new field in which he had hoped to have both 
profitably and usefully employed his talents and resources." * 

Steam-power for extinguishing fires was in use in manufac- 
turing establishments before it was employed in portable ma- 
chines, every factory of any pretensions having its steam- 
driven pump with hose and other attachments. 

A floating steam fire-engine, having the speed of nine miles 
an hour, was designed in 1835 for the London Fire-engine Es- 

* Young: Fires, Fire-engines, and Fire Brigades. (The author acknowl- 
edges his indebtedness to this work for many of the f aots given here. ) 


tablishment, but a land steam fire-engine was used by them for 
the first time in July, I860, in one of the back streets of Doc- 
tors Commons. "In point of ( efficiency, simplicity, durability 
of parts, weight, and cost,' it was in no respects superior to Mr. 
Braithwaite's [Ericsson's] steam fire-engine of 1829, while in 
some respects it was inferior to it. In a report to the commit- 
tee, the superintendent of the brigade admitted that this en- 
gine required delicate handling ; and so unsatisfactory upon 
the whole was its performance that at the end of ten months' 
trial it was withdrawn and replaced by one of a different 
construction, bearing a close resemblance to that of Mr. Braith- 


This claim for Ericsson of the invention of what has been 
extensively known as Braitliwaite's steam fire-engine is made 
upon Captain Ericsson's distinct declaration that it was built 
from his designs, as well as upon other authority. In a state- 
ment appearing in the London .Engineer, December 31, 1875, 
lie said : " Having originated, elaborated, and perfected a new 
system, I claim to be tlie father of steam fire-engines ; cheer- 
fully admitting that but for the confidence and liberality of my 
friend and patron, John Braithwaite; it would not have been in 
my power to carry my plans into practice." This refers to the 
experimental engine and the one first built from its design. 
Continuing, Ericsson says further : " I designed two other steam 
fire-engines ordered from Braithwaite's establishment about the 
same time ; one for the Liverpool Docks and one for the Prus- 
sian Government." 

In his contest with the London Fire Brigade Ericsson ap- 
pears to have had his first introduction to the official inertia 
and prejudice he was destined to become further acquainted 
with during his long career of invention. " Prejudice was 
never reasoned into a man, and for that reason can never be 
reasoned out of him." 



Aristocratic Prejudice against Bailroads. Stephenson's Contest with 
Philistine England. The Liverpool Manchester Kailroad offers 
a Prize. The Argument for and against the Locomotive Engine. 
The Eainhill Trial of 1829. Stephenson's Rocket and Ericsson's 
Novelty. The Novelty shoots by the Rocket like a Projectile. A 
Mile in Fifty-six Seconds. Steam Power Supersedes Muscle. 
Public Excitement. A New Era Inaugurated. 

IN 1798, when Lord Campbell went up to London to seek his 
fortune, lie was the subject of anxious apprehension on the 
part of bis relatives because of the speed witb wliicli lie was to 
travel by stage. The distance of three hundred miles between 
Edinburgh and the- capital was made in sixty hours, and stories 
were rife of deaths by apoplexy, as the result of travelling at 
this alarming rate of five or six miles an hour. During the 
quarter of a century following Lord Campbell's journey there 
was some increase on even this remarkable rate of speed. 
Twenty thousand miles of turnpike had been constructed in 
England previous to the date of Ericsson's transfer there in 1826 
and 2,200,000 had been expended upon them to increase the 
possibilities of land carriage. 

Advance in this -direction had reached its limit. Light ve- 
hicles, mounted on springs and speeding over the perfect high- 
ways of Macadam had gradually replaced the pack-horses and 
rude carriages of a hundred years before. Great attention had 
been paid to improving the breed of carriage-horses, and seven, 
eight, and even ten miles per hour were common with passenger 
coaches. The Quicksilver Mail to Falmouth made eleven miles 
an hour, including stoppages, -and even seventeen miles an hour 
were obtained for a short stage with the Shrewsbury coaches 
over the exceptional route between Cheltenham and Tewksbury. 

The three thousand miles of canal in England had relieved 


to some extent the demand for heavy carriage, and suggestions 
of a coming revolution were found in the development of the 
system of tramways employed in the coal districts of Newcastle 
where George Stephenson served his apprenticeship and 
gained experience in engine construction. These had been in 
use for a century and a half, or since the time when Master 
Beaumont, a gentleman of "great ingenuity and rare parts," 
had expended his fortune of 30,000 in substituting "for the 
ancient u waynes" "waggons "running on these parallel ways of 
timber. But no one dreamed of the great changes involved in 
the use of steam as a means of traction. As to the general 
public, it ridiculed in its wisdom the idea of exceeding the speed 
of the quick passenger coaches. Philistine England combined 
its strength to defeat the projects of the engine-driver from 
lullingworth colliery, with his wild plans for carrying freight 
at the rate of twelve or fifteen miles an hour. His idea of a 
tramway laid to a uniform grade over hill and valley, instead 
of following the sinuosities of the ground, was'bitterly opposed, 
and the most alarming prophecies were in vogue concerning 
the danger attending his plans. 

As early as 1749 Watt had suggested the idea of applying 
steam power to passenger coaches travelling over the common 
roads, and various attempts had been made to realize this con- 
ception. Experience at the collieries had shown the possibili- 
ties of moving heavy wagons on tramways with stationary 
engines, but a great contention had arisen over the suggestion 
that it was feasible to use locomotives on such roads, while the 
best engineers in England, Ericsson included, were seeking 
some means of overcoming the supposed want of adhesion be- 
tween the wheels and the rails. A learned advocate expended 
his eloquence before a committee of Parliament ridiculing the 
idea of going " at the rate of twelve miles an hour with the 
aid of the devil in the form of a locomotive, sitting as postil- 
ion on the fore horse. 55 To his own satisfaction this man of 
law; proved that a gale of wind " would render it impossible to 
set off a locomotive engine either by poking the fire or keeping 
up of the steam until the boiler was ready to burst." 

It ia difficult now to realize the extent of the prejudice then 
existing in England against railroads, especially among the 


classes whose interests fortified their prejudices. Aristocratic 
sentiment was ]ong arrayed against a mode of conveyance 
bringing noble and peasant to a common level ; even after suc- 
cess was assured English fashion clung to its earlier and less 
convenient mode of locomotion simply because its abandonment 
by the vulgar made it more exclusive, as it still clings to its wax- 
candles to the exclusion of gas. 

The Duke of Wellington refused to trust himself upon a 
railroad until the year 1843, and went then only because he 
was in attendance upon the Queen, who the year before fol- 
lowed the example of Prince Albert in making use of this con- 
veyance between London and "Windsor. The favored of for- 
tune always have a keen appreciation of the menace to their 
privileges involved in radical changes of any sort in existing 
conditions. In this case they appear to have had a particularly 
lively premonition of the revolution to follow the success of the 
Yorkshire engineer. The peers of England as landowners, and 
the classes they represented or influenced, were among the chief 
opponents of the railroad projects. u Journeys at that time," 
says James John Garth Wilkinson, " were restricted to a small 
portion of the community. The more the coaches were per- 
fected, and the better horsed, the more expensive and select they 
became. How shall we popularize travelling ? By a viler ex- 
pedient of canals, carts, and the like ? This, too, existed, but it 
was used merely for necessity, and did not attract, or make all 
men into travellers. To effect the better result an invention 
grander and cheaper than had then traversed space was required. 
To move the rich needed only a four-horse coach, running in 
an agony of ten miles an hour; but to move the poor required 
cars before which those of the triumphing Caesars must pale 
their ineffectual competition. Thus, though the problem was 
the enfranchisement of the meaner classes from the fetters of 
pedestrianisrn, yet the only solution of it lay in the increased 
convenience of all ranks, from the noble to the peasant, and not 
in the degradation but in the elevation of the locomotive art." * 

The early projectors of railroads intended them for goods 
transport ; especially for carrying ore a short distance from the 
mines. They did not realize the possibilities of passenger traffic ; 

* Wilkinson's Human Body and its Connection with. Man, pp. 12, 13. 


these revealed themselves only when rapid motion was assured 
and in this revelation it was the fortune of John Ericsson to 
play a most conspicuous part. He was at work on his marine 
boiler, and fighting adverse public sentiment with his steam 
fire engine, while the Stephensons were bringing to a success 
ful issue the great scheme of a railroad between Liverpool and 
Manchester. The appearance of the prospectus of this rail- 
road in a volume labelled " Some of the Bubbles of 1825," 
and found in one of the public libraries, shows how this project 
was then regarded. 

The elder Stephensop,who was the engineer of the railroad, 
was an earnest advocate of locomotives, and argued strenuously 
against the project of using stationary engines to draw the cars 
from station to station. The possibilities of such engines were 
limited to the carrying of forty tons of coal at the rate of six 
miles an hour. Stephenson urged that ten miles could be ob- 
tained with the locomotive, and in the hidden recesses of his 
own mind cherished the thought of twenty miles. He did not 
dare express it, for fear of still further increasing the prejudice 
against his plans. 

Upon the decision of this question of power turned the 
whole future of railroad development, as the result has shown. 
After much painstaking investigation the railroad officials 
yielded to Stephenson's solicitations, and resolved to make a 
trial of the locomotive engine in spite of the baleful prophe- 
cies concerning it. An advertisement was issued offering a 
prize of five hundred ^pounds for the best locomotive adapted to a 
road of 5 feet 8J inch gauge, capable of drawing a gross weight 
of twenty tons at the rate of ten miles an hour, and conforming 
to certain stipulations. It must consume its own smoke, accord- 
ing to the provisions of the railway act, and its limit of weight 
was fixed at six tons. The learned Government Inspector of the 
Post Office Steam Packets pronounced the men who prescribed 
this impossible condition of ten miles an hour " a set of char- 
latans," and offered a breakfast on a stewed engine-wheel in 
case their requirements were met.* Not a single eminent pro- 

* For many of the facts given thus far in this chapter I am indehted to 
Smiles's Life of George and Robert Stephenson, which is, however, truth- 
fully described by Knight's American Mechanical Dictionary as " ignor- 


fessional man sided with Stephenson in his preference for loco- 
motives, arid public opinion was greatly excited over the dangers 
supposed to attend this novel system. When Parliament had 
been applied to for a charter for the Liverpool & Manchester 
road, great care had been taken to avoid the suggestion of lo- 
comotives, and the discussion before the committee was as to 
the possibilities of traction on a railroad by horse-power. The 
biographer of C. B. Yignoles, who was principal resident en- 
gineer of the road from 1825 to 1827, says : "There can be no 
doubt it would have risked the success of the bill if the pro- 
moters had laid any stress on the possibility of steam becom- 
ing the traction agent." * 

Five months were allowed for completing the engines, yet 
it was only by a bare chance that Ericsson was able to enter 
the contest, for only seven weeks of the twenty-two remained 
when he learned of the competition and commenced work on 
his engine. He had never built a locomotive; Stephenson had 
been for five years at the head of an establishment for the man- 
ufacture of such locomotives as were then in use on the colliery 
tramways ; he had made a special study of this form of engine, 
and he enjoyed the further advantage of controlling the road 
ordering the trial and had the sympathy and support of its offi- 
cials. He was thoroughly equipped for the contest, and before 
Ericsson began work had substantially completed his trial en- 
gine with the assistance of his son Robert, a young engineer of 
Ericsson's own age, twenty-six. * The Stephensons were able to 
test their engine in actual practice on the Eallingworth Rail- 
road, and to correct defects that would have been fatal to suc- 
cess on the day of the trial. 

Describing the occasion, Mr. Booth says : t 

The intense interest excited by the offer of this premium was almost 
unparalleled. The friends of Locomotive Engines hailed it as an era 

ing facts and pettifogging the whole case; about as one-sided an affair as 
Abbott's Life of Saint Napoleon.'* This is certainly true, so far, as concerns 
Smiles's meagre reference to Ericsson's part in the Eainhill contest. 

*Life of Charles Blacker Yignoles, by his son, p. 111. Longmans, Green 
& Co. 1889. 

f Account of Liverpool & Manchester Railway, by Henry Booth, Treasurer 
to the Company, p. 101. Philadelphia, 1831. 


which was to create one of the greatest changes in the internal commu- 
nications of the kingdom that had ever yet taken place. The canal pro- 
prietors dreaded lest the issue of these trials should prove that a more 
economical mode of conveyance might be established ; and the pro- 
jectors of the [Railway viewed the experiment as one calculated to make 
that grand work profitable to themselves and beneficial to the country, 
or show to them what an immense expenditure had been incurred which 
might otherwise have been avoided. 

The public were not idle spectators ; they considered that the suc- 
cessful termination would not only confer individual benefits and local 
advantages, but a great national good, by introducing a system of con- 
veyance throughout the country which is at once easy, safe, expeditious, 

Rocket" Locomotive. 

and economical, affording to the poor a luxury hitherto denied to them, 
and to the opulent a despatch which hitherto no sum could purchase. 

The conditions required a run of seventy miles, but when 
the day for the contest came, the only portion of the railroad 
completed was a level stretch of about two miles at a little place 
called Rainhill. The competing locomotives were compelled, 
therefore, to cover their distance by making twenty trips back 
and forth over one and three-quarter miles of track. Five en- 
gines entered for the trial at Eainhill. Three were of little ao 
count. The only one which disputed for the supremacy with 
Stephenson's HocJcet, was Ericsson's Novelty. Minor defects 
in its workmanship, such as Stephenson had every opportunity 
to detect and correct, prevented the Novelty from completing 


the required distance. So Stephenson was the only one who 
strictly conformed to the conditions, and the prize was awarded 
to him. 

According to contemporary accounts, however, the succes 
cPestime was with Ericsson. His singularly quick comprehen- 
sion of the problem before him, and his masterly control of its 
conditions were shown in his ability to enter such a contest 
with so little time for preparation, and no time for experiment. 
Previous experience with the Victory, and with his steam fire- 
engine no doubt led up to this result. In both of these he used 
artificial draught, which is the essential factor in the produc- 
tion of high speed, increasing heat in the furnace as the black- 
smith does in his forge with his bellows. "Without this the 
modern locomotive would be an impossibility. 

To whom belongs the credit of first inventing what is known 
as the steam-blast does not appear. It is certain that its value, 
indeed its absolute necessity, in locomotives constructed for 
speed, was never understood until the Kainhill contest made it 
clear. Ericsson's previous use of this means of creating power 
with the least expenditure of grate surface, and corresponding 
compactness of construction, shows his thorough appreciation 
of its importance. 

In an article on the " Civil Engineers of Britain," in Black- 
wood} s Magazine for October, 1879, we are told that : " There 
are various claimants for the honor of the invention, which 
proved to be the very vital breath of the locomotive, the steam- 
blast, and the actual discovery, not of the method itself, but 
of its prodigious efficacy, seems to have taken Stephenson as 
much as anyone else by surprise at the experiments at Kainhill, 
in 1829. On the first day of her trial the Rocket derived but 
little benefit from the discharge of the exhaust steam up the 
chimney, and, indeed, made steam nearly as freely when stand- 
ing as when running. The mean speed kept up by the engine 
was under 14, and the maximum 24 miles an hour. Without any 
load a velocity of 29 miles an hour was attained. Ericsson's 
engine, the Novelty, shot by the Rocket like a projectile ; but 
the workmanship was not equal to that of the stout Northum- 
brian, though the scientific condition of the Novelty was proba- 
bly of a more advanced order. Had the workmanship been as 


strong as the design was original, the prize would have been 
won by the Novelty, and the early history of railways would 
have assumed a different complexion. After the trials, the two 
exhaust orifices of the Rocket were thrown into one, and so 
contracted that the exhaust steam produced a powerful blast 
in the chimney. The results were such as to indicate the full 
value of this mode of developing heat." 

Edward Alfred Cowper, a member of the Institution of 
Civil Engineers, said in 1884,* of the Novelty: "It was a very 
light engine, and would not draw a heavy load, and the flue 
gave way several times, but I think it due to the memory of 
my old master, John Braithwaite, to state that it was the first 
engine that ever ran really fast, as it did a mile in fifty-six 

Sir Charles Fox, afterward the engineer of the London 
Crystal Palace, was at that time a young man in the employ of 
Ericsson, to whom he was indebted for his first start in life. 
He was on the Novelty when it shot by the Rocket, and never, 
he was wont to say, could he forget the expression on the face 
of Eobert Stephenson at the moment, f 

Speaking of this trial, Fraser^s Magazine said, in 1881: 
"For the first time the shrill whistle of the locomotive was 
heard in Middlesex. Few were the spectators, for the trial was 
essentially a practical experiment ; but the faces of wonder and 
dismay with which they beheld the advancing, the self-moving 
machine were not to be forgotten. As the engine gained her 
breath, and with the sharp sigh, or rather snort, now so fa- 
miliar to our ears, rapidly attained the speed of thirty miles an 
hour, the anxious lines on the face of the great engineer relaxed. 
By the time of the return to Kilburn it was clear that the en- 
gines designed for the London & Birmingham traffic would 
answer the expectations of the engineer." 

The defects of Ericsson's engine were such as might be 
expected in a construction put at once to the test without pre- 
vious experiment. These defects were all easy of correction 
had opportunity offered. But time did not allow, and Erics- 
son was even obliged to ask for a delay, to adjust the wheels 

* Heat and its Mechanical Applications, p. 73. 
f Blackwood's Magazine, p. 37. July, 1889. 


of his engine to the track, for it had never been on the rails 
before. lie always claimed the credit of being the first to 
demonstrate the error of the then received opinion that exten- 
sive surface must be exposed to the fire to secure the necessary 
amount of steam. His little JHfovelty, with its compact machin- 
ery, was a revelation as to the possibilities of steam, yet nei- 
ther for Stephenson nor for Ericsson is to be claimed the exclu- 
sive credit for that memorable day at Kainhill. As Stephen- 

The Novelty Locomotive, built by Ericsson to compete with Stepheuson's Rocket, 1829. 

son has himself said: "The locomotive is not the product of 
any single man, but of a nation of engineers." 

If he spoke critically of Stephenson's engine Ericsson al-, 
ways refrained from attacking Stephenson personally, content- 
ing himself with defending his own invention when unfair 
comparisons were made. " As to George Stephenson," he once 
instructed his secretary to say in reply to a letter, " the Cap- 
tain refrains from doing anything calculated to tarnish the 
fame of that truly great engineer." 


Neither Ericsson nor liis friends were satisfied with the jus- 
tice of the decision against him at Kainhill, so far as it assumed 
to decide as to the merits of the rival engines. This decision 
was in part due to the hasty action of the hot-blooded young 
Swede, in withdrawing the Novelty from the contest. In a 
manuscript left by Ericsson, he says : 

It Is very surprising that the several writers on railway locomotion 
have overlooked the fact that the Novelty contained the essential prop- 
erties indispensable to success, while the Rocket, which took the pre- 
mium, lacked those very properties. A glance at these locomotive 
machines as first placed on the Liverpool & Manchester Kailway shows 
that the constructor of the former had grasped the subject and that the 
constructor of the latter had not. 

Ericsson, duly appreciating the necessity of protecting the mechan- 
ism from shaking and jar on the rail, suspended the entire framework, 
boilers and engines, on springs of the most perfect elasticity ; but in 
doing this he did not, like Stephenson, overlook the fact that unless the 
power of the engines be applied to cranks on the axle of the driving- 
wheels in a horizontal direction, the action of the springs would be in- 
terrupted and counteracted. Consequently the Novelty, actuated by 
horizontal connecting-rods moved along the road with perfect steadiness 
while the Rocket, with her diagonal connecting-rods had a violent racking 
motion from side to side. Mr. Hackworth's Sans Pareil, with her verti- 
cal connecting-rods, proved worse even than the Rocket, in fact did not 
admit of springs of sufficient elasticity to be of any utility. 

But a far more important feature in the construction of the Novelty 
claims attention, Ericsson, duly estimating the insufficiency of chim- 
ney-draught, provided his engine with artificial means for supporting the 
combustion in the boiler furnace. A blowing machine was applied, 
moved directly by the engine, so that the supply of air was greatest; 
when the engine worked at maximum speed. Stephenson, on the other 
hand, depended on the chimney-draught. True, a discovery was made 
by Mr. Hackworth, during the trials at Bainhill, that the admission of 
steam into the chimney in a peculiar way produced a powerful draught. 
But this principle of artificial draught did not enter into the original 
construction of the Roclcet, while the plan of the Novelty was wholly based 
on that principle. In fact, no chimney at all was applied. 

Eiicsson has been justly censured for withdrawing the Novelty from 
the contest in the absence of his friend John Braithwaite, to whose liber- 
ality, keen mechanical perceptions and enterprise the directors of the 
Liverpool & Manchester Bailway were indebted for the benefit conferred 
on their great undertaking at the time by the performance of the 
Novelty. It is difficult to see how, if the contest had not been aban- 
doned, the judges could have refused awarding the prize to the Novelty, 


in view of her greater speed than the other competing engines, and in 
view of her superior principle of construction compared with the Rocket. 

In reply to an inquiry from Mr. C. H. Ilaswell, Ericsson 
said (February 2, 1875) : 

MY DEAB HASWELL : As far as I know the boiler of the Novelty, as well 
as the boilers which I designed for the steamship Victory, 1828, were the 
first in which the furnace with its surrounding water space was placed be- 
low the horizontal part of the boiler which contained the flues. The pres- 
ent locomotive boiler, as well as the boilers of Stephenson's engines built 
1830, are, with reference to the point mentioned, copies of my originals of 
1828. The boiler of Stephenson's Rocket, 1829, it should be observed, had 
a separate fire-box secured to the horizontal part or flue boiler, the water 
surrounding the furnace circulating through pipes connected with the 

said flue boiler. Yours truly, 


Steplienson ran the whole distance without the carriage 
containing his water-tank, an essential part of his outfit, and 
with the water in the boiler raised to the maximum tempera- 
ture. This offended Ericsson's sense of fair play, as his engine, 
owing to its construction, was compelled to run handicapped 
withthe load of a water-tank. The contemporary accounts 
certainly awarded the palm of victory to him, and those who 
read the newspapers of that day will suppose that the prize was 
surely his. The account of the performance of the Novelty 
given in the London Times (October 8, 1829) was very full 
and most enthusiastic. Aside from its commendation of Erics- 
son's Novelty, it is interesting as a contemporary account of an 
historical contest. * The Times said : 

The directors of the Liverpool & Manchester Railroad having of- 
fered, in the month of April last, a prize of 500 for the best locomo- 
tive engine, the trial of the carriages which had been constructed to con- 
tend for the prize commenced to-day. The running ground was on the 
Manchester side of the Bainhill bridge, at a place called Kenrick's Cross, 
about nine miles from Liverpool. At this place the railroad runs on a 
dead level, and formed, of course, a fine spot for trying the comparative 
speed of the carriages. The directors had made suitable preparations 
for this important as well as interesting experiment of the powers of 
locomotive carriages. For the accommodation of the ladies who might 
visit the course (to use the language of the turf) a booth was erected on 


the south side of the railroad, equidistant from the extremities of the 
trial ground. Here a band of music was stationed and amused the com- 
pany during the day by playing pleasing and favorite airs. 

The directors, each of whom wore a white riband in his button- 
hole, arrived on the course shortly after 10 o'clock in the forenoon, hav- 
in- come from Huyton on cars drawn by Mr. B. Sfcephenson's locomotive 
steam carnage, which moved up the inclined plane from thence with 
considerable velocity. Meanwhile ladies and gentlemen in great num- 
bers arrived from Liverpool and Warrington, St. Helens and Manches- 
ter, as well as from the surrounding country, in vehicles of every de- 
scription. Indeed, all the roads presented on this occasion scenes sim- 
ilar to those which roads leading to race-courses usually present during 
days of sport. The pedestrians were extremely numerous, and crowded 
all the roads which conducted to the race-ground. 

The spectators lined both sides of the road for the distance of a 
mile and a half ; and although the men employed on the line, amount- 
ing to nearly three hundred, acted as special constables, with orders to 
keep the crowd off the course, all their efforts to carry their orders into 
effect were rendered nugatory by the people persisting in walking 011 the 
course. It is difficult to form an estimate of the number of individuals 
who had congregated to behold the experiment, but there could not, at 
a moderate calculation, be less than ten thousand. Some gentlemen 
even went so far as to compute them at fifteen thousand. . Never, per- 
haps, on any occasion were so many scientific gentlemen and practical 
engineers collected together on one spot. The interesting and impor- 
tant nature of the experiments to be tried liad drawn from all parts of 
the kingdom to be present at this contest of locomotive carriages, as 
well as to witness the amazing utility of railways in expediting the com- 
munication between distant places. The attendance of the members of 
the Society of Friends was extremely numerous also, and their appear- 
ance on a race-course gave rise to some amusing badinage during the 

There were only one or two public-houses or taverns in the vicinity 
of the trial ground. These were, of course, crowded with company as 
the day advanced, particularly the railroad tavern at Kenrick's Cross, 
which -was literally crammed. The locomotive carriages attracted, of 
course, the attention of every individual on the road. They ran up and 
down during the afternoon more for amusement than experiment, sur- 
prising and even startling the unscientific beholders by the amazing 
velocity with, which they moved along the rails. Mr. Bobert Stephen- 
son's carriage attracted t"he most attention during the early part of the 
afternoon. It ran without any weight being attached to it, at the rate 
of twenty-four miles in the hour, shooting past the spectators with amaz- 
ing velocity, emitting very little smoke but dropping its red-hot cin- 
ders as it proceeded. Oars containing stones were then attached to it, 
weighing, together with its own weight, upward of seventeen tons, pre- 


paratory to the trial of its speed being made. This trial occupied, with 
stoppages, seventy-one minutes, and proved that the carriage can, draw- 
ing three times its own weight, run at the rate of more than ten miles 
an hour. 

But the speed of all the other locomotive steam carriages on the 
course was far exceeded by that of Messrs. Braithwaite & Ericsson's 
beautiful engine from London. It was the lightest and most elegant 
carnage on the road yesterday, and the velocity with which it moved 
surprised and amazed every beholder. It shot along the line at the 
amazing rate of thirty miles an hour ! It seemed, indeed, to fly, present- 
ing one of the most sublime spectacles of human ingenuity and human 
daring the world ever beheld. 

Of the second day's trial the Times of October 12, 1829, 

Messrs. Braithwaite & Ericsson's engine (the Novelty] proved it- 
self to-day to be as good (proportionally) at drawing a load as running 
without one. It drew, in one hour, three times its weight a distance 
of 20f miles ! 

In its issue of October 16, 1829, the Times said : 

The definite trial of Messrs. Braithwaite & Ericsson's locomotive 
carriage (the Novelty] was fixed. for this day. The load having been 
attached, the engine started on its journey shortly after one o'clock. It 
performed two trips with great celerity ; but when running down the 
course for the third time the pressure of the steam was too great for 
the boiler, which unfortunately burst.* This accident put an end to 
the trial and the Novelty was taken from the course. 

The trials which have taken place have satisfactorily proved the su- 
periority of the principle on which the Novelty is constructed. The 
machine was, however, too hastily and slightly fabricated defects which 
Messrs. Braithwaite & Ericsson can easily remedy in any future engines 
which they may construct for railroads. 

To John Bourne Ericsson wrote (January 19, 1875) saying: 

The Novelty was provided with a blowing machine operated by 
a short lever attached to the extension of the axle of one of the bell- 
cranks. The air was forced into a close ash-pit, the fuel, coke, being 
supplied from the top by means of a hopper having two slide valves. 
The bottom of the ash-pit, as well as the grate, moved on hinges in 

* This is a mistake. The escape of steam from the yielding of green joints 
misled the reporter. 


order to admit of cleaning. The furnace was upright, resembling an 
inverted truncated cone. The flue, made of copper, was a descending 
one, leading out of the top of the furnace and returning three times, 
with the exit at the extreme end of the horizontal part of the boiler. 
Several boilers built on this plan all proved very satisfactory. In my 
steam fire engine of 1840, however, though the blowing machine was re- 
tained, the fire-box was square and the tubes straight, as in Booth's 
boiler I persist in not calling it a Stephenson boiler. 

As to straight tubes, Braithwaite and myself built a boiler with 
twenty straight copper tubes and an internal furnace in 1828, the oper- 
ation of which was witnessed by Captain Boss and other persons. "We 
abandoned this mode of construction because it -was difficult to make 
steam-tight joints and not so economical as the descending flue, or the 
helical flue coiled round the furnace. Ill-natured people in Liverpool, 
during the Bainhill trials, .insisted that Booth borrowed his idea from 
London.* Unfortunately my drawings of these boilers were destroyed 
many years ago. 

The Novelty was planned and built ready for transportation to 
Liverpool in seven weeks. But for a letter received from a friend in that 
town, at the end of July, 1829, informing me, merely as news, that a 
" steam race" was expected, the Novelty would never have been con- 

After the Bainhill trials, I used the Novelty as an experimental 
engine to test the efficiency of exhaust draught and independent power for 
operating the blowing machine, etc., etc. At the end of those experi- 
ments, the Novelty could hardly be recognized as the Novelty. I after- 
ward designed another form of locomotive engine of very elegant ap- 
pearance, two of which were built by Braitlrwaifce, intending to astonish 
the world at the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Bailway. They 
proved utter failures for want of steam ; my opponents' outcry against a 
close ash-pit having induced me to abandon the blowing machine and 
resort to exhaust draught, produced by a small fan-wheel turning with- 
in a magnificent polished copper vase placed on the top of the boiler ; 
very classical but miserably inefficient. 

The two locomotives here referred to were called the ' King 
William* and ' Queen Adelaide? t To them was for the first 
time applied in 1S30 ? the link motion for reversing stearn- 

* That is to say, from Ericsson's previous use of it in London. 

f Speaking of the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Sep- 
tember 15, 1830, Eev. Olinthus J. Vignoles, in his life of Charles Blacker 
Vignoles, says: u New engines made by Ericsson & Co. for this occasion, viz., 
Queen Adelaide and William the FourtJi, had been contracted for by the 
Liverpool & Manchester directors, but they had not reached Liverpool in 
time to be * proved ' before the day of opening." 


engines. The so-called Stephenson link is a modification of 
Ericsson's original link motion. 

The several statements made by Ericsson concerning the 
Rainhill trial, and here quoted, were all of them sent in answer 
to requests for information coming from authorities on steam 
engineering and the authors of works of professional reputa- 
tion. The final paragraph of the letter last quoted shows how 
ready he was to admit his mistakes when once thoroughly con- 
vinced that lie was wrong. 

Among those present at Rainhill was a young man named 
John Scott Russell, who has since become so widely known as 
one of the most eminent of English engineers. To the seventh 
edition of the " Encyclopaedia Britannica," published three years 
after the contest, Mr. Russell contributed an article in which he 
said : " The Novelty had to be withdrawn, through a series 
of unfortunate accidents which haol no reference to the charac- 
ter or capabilities of the engine ; and we well recollect that it 
made a powerful impression on the public mind at the time. 
On the first day of the trial, Thursday, October 6, 1829, it went 
twenty-eight miles an hour (without any attached load) and did 
one mile in seven seconds under two minutes. This perform- 
ance will now appear trifling; but at the time the sensation it 
produced was immense." 

The directors asked for ten miles an hour and Ericsson gave 
them nearly thirty-two miles (31.9). It is true it was with an 
unloaded engine, but this immense step forward was enough to 
prove the possibilities of locomotion. "It is far from my 
wish," Mr. Nicholas "Wood, one of the judges, had said before 
the trial, "to promulgate to the world that the individual ex- 
pectation, or rather profession of the enthusiastic specialist will 
be realized and that we shall see engines travelling at the rate 
of twelve, sixteen, eighteen, or twenty miles an hour. Nothing 
could do more harm toward their adoption or general improve- 
ment than the promulgation of such nonsense." 

What was to be said, then, of this Swedish youth of twenty- 
six, fresh from his Non-land forest, who gave them more than 
thirty miles an hour ? Stephenson, too, exceeded his expecta- 
tions, for Mr. Russell credits his locomotive with twenty-four 
miles an hour, drawing three times its own weight, and thirty 


miles without a load. "Had the seventy miles been one 
length," says Mr. Russell, " the Rocket would have maintained 
an average velocity of fifteen rniles an hour." 

Ericsson, while vastly increasing the speed of locomotives, 
at the same time reduced the weight eighty-five per cent., as 
compared with those then in use. The HocJcet, though it 
weighed four times as much as the Novelty, was also a great im- 
provement in this respect upon the engines preceding it. 

Charles Blacker Vignoles, F.K.S., rode with Ericsson that 
day, and forty-one years after (January 11, 1870), in his address 
upon taking the chair as president of the English Institution of 
Civil Engineers, Mr. Yignoles said : " The Novelty was long 
remembered as the beau ideal of a locomotive, which, if it did 
not command success, deserved it." 

" To most men," says another authority, John Bourne, " the 

View of "the Novelty with a Train of Engine and Coaches in 1829. 
(from pen-and-ink drawing by C, B. Vignoles.) 

production of such an engine would have constituted an ade- 
quate claim to celebrity. In the case of Ericsson, it is only a 
single star of the brilliant galaxy with which his shield is 

Ericsson's engine leaped at once to the very front of locomo- 
tive performance thus far, if we are to accept the statement of 
Mr. Cowper, confirmed by the excellent authority of Ericsson 
and Yignoles, who declared that the Novelty ran, on one occa- 
sion, with them on board, at the rate of fifty miles an hour. 
The Great Western Kail way of England had distanced all 
competitors when it made this speed on a continuous journey, 
excluding stops from the calculation. The average speed of all 
the express trains in England is now 44 miles an hour, exclud- 
ing stops, and in the United States 41 f miles. The maximum 
speed is 47 miles, and the highest speed beyond the bounds of 


Anglo-Saxon civilization is 37 miles an hour. This is the speed 
of the trains that skirt the base of the Pyramids. France fol- 
lows next with an average of 36J miles and a maximum of 
43 miles from Paris to Calais. The great advance is in the in- 
creasing number of the trains run at these high speeds.* 

We may imagine the excitement following the announce- 
ment in the Times concerning the performance of the Novelty^ 
for to this engine, as we have seen, England's great daily de- 
voted chief attention. Railroad shares leaped at once to a pre- 
mium, and excited groups gathered on 'change to discuss the 
wonderful event which British opinion had led everyone not to 
expect. The pessimists were silenced ; the art of modern rail- 
way travel was inaugurated, miles divided where leagues sepa- 
rated before ; men were called upon to adjust themselves to 
new conditions created by the possibilities of freer intercourse, 
and the era of great cities and mighty states extending their 
sway over continents was opened. 

To the young engineer who played his part so well that day 
was accorded the rare privilege of living long enough to witness 
the development of the new age he had helped to usher in. In 
the closing years of his life he could look back upon " a change 
in the physical relations of man to the planet on which he 
dwells greater than any that can be distinctly measured in any 
known period of historic time : " a change he had a most 
memorable part in creating, and all of which had come within 
the period covered by his professional labors. 

In 1841, when the railroad had fairly established itself as 
a popular means of transit, eighteen hundred miles of track 
had been built and three hundred thousand passengers were 
carried weekly. When Ericsson died, nearly half a century 
later, the annual receipts of English railroads were more than 
the capital outlay in 1841 and the number of passengers had 
increased more than forty-fold. 

The trial on the Liverpool & Manchester road not only at- 
tracted the attention of all England, but it brought together, as 
the reports show, a great gathering of the engineers of that 
day. Coming together and dining together are in England re- 

* Express Trains, English and Foreign. By E. Foxwell and T. 0. Farrer. 
London, 1889. 


lated as cause to effect. A grand banquet was given in Liver- 
pool to the directors and officers of the railway and to the com- 
peting locomotive builders. Toasts and speeches followed, and 
if Ericsson did not carry home witli him the ,500 offered as a 
prize, he at least made himself known to all England as one 
of the rising men of his profession. 

If slow to realize the possibilities of railroad locomotion in 
advance, the capitalists were prompt to take advantage of the 
change when it came. A powerful combination was formed to 
open communication with the French capital by railroad and 
steamboat, and Vignoles was sent over to secure the necessary 
concession from the French Government. Thiers, then Minis- 
ter of Public "Works, visited England with his under-secretary to 
inquire into this method of locomotion. But he did not pro- 
pose to trust himself to it, for he carried with him for private 
use a lumbering coach of the time of Louis Quatorze. M. 
Thiers examined, listened, responded politely to those who 
sought to instruct him, and went back to report that railroads 
were not suited to France, and to violently oppose them from 
his place in the Corps Lcgislatif. Thus the introduction of 
railroads into France was postponed for eight years, and an il- 
lustration given of the enormous difficulties against which such 
men as Ericsson contend. Naturally, Ericsson did not share 
the reverence for official utterance entertained by " Sir Joseph 
Porter, K.C.B., 57 and if he on occasion spoke evil of dignita- 
ries, his experience through life gave him ample justification. 



A Spendthrift in Invention. Associations with. William Laird. The 
Caloric Engine the Sensation of London. Faraday's Lecture upon 
it. -Ericsson Anticipates Sir William Thomson's Sounding Appa- 
ratus. Applies Steam to Canal Navigation. 

JOHN" ERICSSON was now fairlj entered upon liis en- 
gineering career. Fortune, as well as fame would have 
been within his reach had he possessed what is called " the 
nose f or-money." But the Swede has been described as " one 
born to own a million and to spend two." And if this de- 
scription does not apply to the race, it certainly does 'apply to 
this particular representative of it. He was accustomed to 
say he cared not who drew at the spigot, so long as he controlled 
the bung, and the spigot was always open. Nor was Ericsson 
in any active sense anxious for fame. He wished to accom- 
plish, not to proclaim his accomplishment ; though he was quick 
enough to defend his reputation when assailed, or to assert him- 
self when he detected a disposition to set him aside. His one 
consuming passion was to bring forth some new thing, or to 
transform the old in the alembic of his creative imagination. 
For this he would sacrifice his own means and, so far as they 
would let him, the means of his friends. Not otherwise ex* 
travagant, in realizing his engineering conceptions he was a 
spendthrift. Eor this reason, the partnership with Braithwaite, 
so valuable in practical experience, was not a commercial suc- 
cess. The steam fire-engine was a mechanical triumph, but it 
did not bring orders to the workshop. It was a generation in 
advance of the demand. Though the experiments with the 
Victory laid the foundation for future triumphs in naval con- 
struction their immediate result was most unfortunate. 

In the field of locomotive construction Ericsson was distanced 


by the more steady-going, if less brilliant, Steplienson, whose 
labors, concentrated upon the work of improving and adapting, 
were not disturbed by the constant buzzing of inventive con- 
ceits. Ericsson's energies, on the contrary, were divided among 
the numerous schemes constantly born of a prolific brain, and 
such of these adventures as were profitable were, like the "good 
ears " of Pharaoh's dream, " devoured by the thin ears blasted 
by the east wind." Invention followed invention at the aver- 
age rate of three or four a year for a long period, limiting the 
term to devices put in actual operation, and excluding the nu- 
merous modifications introduced into existing patents. 

Ericsson shared the experience common to inventors, and 
discovered at times that he was forbidden to use his own ideas 
because they were vaguely suggested in some previous patent 
or had been monopolized by some later discoverer, more enter- 
prising than he in availing himself of the protection of the 
Government. He never invented anything, he was accustomed 
to say, without finding it claimed by some one, as soon as at- 
tention was called to its value by its introduction into use. 

Following his abandonment of the field of locomotive con- 
struction, he designed a steam-engine formed of a hollow drum 
of metal with inclined planes set on the inner -surface. The 
steam was admitted at the centre and striking these planes set 
the globe in motion, at the rate of over six hundred miles an 
hour, or nine hundred feet in a second. This steam wheel was 
a beautiful piece of work, so true a circle and so highly polished 
that it continued to rotate for several hours after the steam 
was shut off. It was set up at Birkenhead, England, in 1831, 
and connected to a centrifugal pump by band wheels to reduce 
the speed. The pump, another of Ericsson's inventions, raised 
a standard column of water thirty-two feet high, and two feet 
in diameter. The enormous speed of the prime motor rapidly 
destroyed the belts, but the action of the pump was perfect. 
A patent for this rotary engine was obtained February 8, 1832, 
and one-half interest in ifc assigned to William Laird, of Liver- 
pool, who advanced the money to pay for the patent and con- 
duct experiments. The title of the engine was " an improved 
engine for communicating mechanical power." One-half inter- 
est in. another rotary engine, bearing the same title, was also 



assigned to Mr. Laird. This, as we are informed by a memo- 
randum found among Ericsson's effects, " proved a complete 
failure when put to trial." 

Rotary engines have been the dream of inventors for gener- 
ations ; indeed, since the time of Hero of Alexandria, B.C. 130. 
They are practicable, and have been to a certain extent success- 
ful. Other engines convert reciprocating into rotary motion ; 
in a rotary engine the steam is applied directly in the line of 
motion, and thus follows the movement of the earth upon its 

Hero's Engine. 

axis. The enormous speed of nine hundred -feet a second, ob- 
tained by Ericsson's engine, was almost exactly equal to that of 
Liverpool around the axis of the globe. 

William Laird, with whom Ericsson became associated at 
this time, was one of the founders of Birkenhead, opposite 
Liverpool. As late as 1818 this place was nothing more than 
a fishing village, with less than fifty inhabitants, and the first 
shipbuilding 'docks were not erected there until 1824. The 
friendship established by Ericsson with the heads of the great 
shipbuilding house of Laird & Son extended to the third gen- 


eration. On the death of the father of the present Mr. Will- 
iam Laird in 1874, his son wrote to Ericsson, saying: "I re- 
member very well that in the earlier days of Birkenhead yon 
were intimate with my father and grandfather, and it is pleas- 
ant to know that the lapse of so many years has not altered 
your feelings of friendship and esteem for them." 

On February 27, 1830, Ericsson patented, in the name of 
John Braithwaite, an apparatus for making salt from brine. 
The fluid was first heated in closed toilers, placed underground, 
and next turned into large open cisterns, there agitated by 
centrifugal fan-wheels, and then allowed to settle and de- 
posit the salt. It worked perfectly, and proved to be economi- 
cal. The crystals were of unusual size but much discolored, 
and numerous experiments failed to discover any method of 
overcoming this fatal defect. Messrs. Cropper, Benson & Co., 
of Liverpool, advanced 5,000 for obtaining the patents for 
this invention and erecting experimental works at Liverpool 
and Winsford in Cheshire. To them the patent for this " im- 
proved method of manufacturing salt" was assigned, and they 
were given control of it as general agents. Twenty years later 
the Siemens Brothers wasted a still larger sum in. the unsuc- 
cessful attempt to improve the process of manufacturing salt 
by their " Regenerative Evaporator." 

To the steamer Corsair, plying between Liverpool and 
Belfast, was applied in 1832 a centrifugal fan-blower, operated 
by a separate small engine, and intended to increase the draft 
in the furnace by creating an artificial current of air. This 
was the first employment, for marine purposes, of a device 
subsequently brought into general use on American steamers. 
" I claim," said Ericsson in a letter to John Bourne, " to be the 
father of the independent power fan-blower system for steam 
vessels, now universally adopted in American river navigation. 
So far no one has disputed my claim." 

On February 8, 1832, a novel device for a rotary engine 
made its appearance from the busy workshop of the inventor's 
brain, and a modification of it followed during the succeeding 
year. These engines were patented, and experimented with, at 
the expense of Mr. William Laird, who received a one-half 
interest in the patents. One was applied to a vessel on the 


Mersey and the other was set up for trial at the establishment 
of Messrs. Maudsley. They worked well, but consumed more 
steam than ordinary reciprocating engines, having the piston 
moving backward and forward in the steam cylinder, as in 
Watt's engine. 

These failures to introduce more economical methods in the 
use of steam seem to have intensified Ericsson's determination 
to find a substitute for it. He had never laid aside the ex- 
pectations connected with his earliest invention of a flame-en- 
gine ; indeed, their influence may be traced through all the ex- 
periences of his long and busy life. They at one time led him 
very near to the danger-line of speculation as to the possibility 
of perpetual motion. He knew of no engineer, he said, who 
had not at some time been fascinated with this conceit. In the 
mechanical operations of nature there seemed to be, with contin- 
ual waste, some law of compensation at work, and Ericsson was 
led to the conclusion that there exists in nature a principle of ab- 
solute reproduction of mechanical force. For this he sought as 
for the pearl of great price. The dynamical theory of heat 
was not accepted when his studies began, and his experiments 
led him to believe that heat was an agent exerting mechanical 
force without itself undergoing change. In this opinion he 
was supported by the declaration of his countryman, Professor 
liar vef eld t, a famous mathematician, that there was nothing in 
the accepted theory of heat to prove that a common spirit-lamp 
might not be sufficient to drive an engine of one hundred horse- 
power. Ericsson hoped at least to so lessen the consumption 
of fuel in the production of mechanical power as to extend the 
range of manufacturing industries into regions not furnished 
with fuel, as well as to remove farther into the future the in- 
evitable period when the world's coal supply will be exhausted. 

The smoke-jack, setting figures in motion by the action of 
the rarefied air rising from a hot stove, is the simplest expres- 
sion of the mechanical force Ericsson sought to control in his 
" caloric engine." As early as 1699, the Frenchman, Amouton, 
had applied this principle to a wheel moved by a column of 
heated air. A century later, in 1797, an Englishman, Glaze- 
brook, patented the idea of transferring the heat in an air-en- 
gine from the hot air going out after doing its work to the 


cool air coming in to take its place and continue the circuit. 
The same idea is found in Lilley's English patent of 1819, and 
in the hot-air engines of Eev. Dr. Robert Stirling, to whom the 
credit for its conception is usually given. 

Stirling, who was a clergyman of Ayrshire, in the year 
Ericsson arrived in England, 1826, applied for a patent for an 
air-engine representing what is known as the regenerative prin- 
ciple. The fact that Ericsson opposed this application shows 
what he thought of Stirling's claim to originality. His oppo- 
sition was unavailing, for a patent is on record as having been 
granted in the following year.* The reverend gentleman de- 
scribes his apparatus for receiving and transferring the heat as 
similar in principle to " Jeffrey's Respirator," then used by con- 
sumptive patients to transfer the heat contained in the air ex- 
haled from the lungs, to the cool air inhaled to take its place. 
Stirling's device was imperfect, and his engine, as Chambers 
states, was crude and incomplete. Nevertheless, it greatly 
annoyed Ericsson by its claims to priority. His own applica- 
tion of a " regenerator " was first made in 1833, when he in- 
vented and patented in England,. France, the United States, and 
other countries a " caloric engine " with an " organ-pipe regen- 
erator " consisting of a faggot of small copper tubes. Through 
these tubes the heated air passed on its way out of the working 
cylinder to the " cooler," and on the outside of the tubes the 
cold air from the cooler passed in an opposite direction on its 
way into the cylinders. Thus, there was a transfer of heat 
from the air going out, after doing its work, to the cold air 
coming in to take its place over the furnace. This transmission 
of heat from the outgoing to the incoming air reduced to the 
minimum the waste of heat, and consequently of power. This 
" regenerator " was the result of many years of study and care- 
ful experiment to determine the most effective means of pre- 
venting the loss of heat, for Ericsson had discovered that it 
was necessary to maintain the air in his working cylinder at a 
high temperature until the end of the piston's stroke. The cyl- 
inder for compressing the air was surrounded by a water-jacket, 
to keep down the temperature and protect the leather fasten- 
ings from the high heat. 

*See Volume 6, Third Series, Repertory of Patents, 1828. 


An experimental caloric engine of five horse-power, and 
with a working piston fourteen inches in diameter, was set in 
motion at London, in 1833, and at once excited extraordinary 
interest. Sir Richard Phillips has recorded, in his " Dictionary 
of the Arts of Life and of Civilization," the " inexpressible de- 
light" with which he witnessed the workings of this machine. 
" With a handful of fuel applied to the very sensible medium 
of atmospheric air and a most ingenious disposition of its dif- 
ferential powers, he beheld a resulting action in narrow com- 
pass, capable of extension to as great forces as ever can be 
wielded or used by man." 

" The principle of the new engine," Sir Richard tells us, 
" consists in this, that the heat that is required to give motion 
to the engine at the commencement, is retained by a peculiar 
process of transfer, and thereby made to act over and over 
again, instead of being, as in the steam-engine, thrown into a 
condenser, or into the atmosphere as so much waste fuel. And 
the well-known phenomenon that temperature, or quality of 
heat, is always equalized between substances, however unequal 
they may be in density, forms the basis of the new Application 
of heat." * 

Dr. Alexander Ore, author of the technical dictionary bear- 
ing his name, was another believer in the caloric engine, assert- 
ing that this invention would throw the name of James "Watt 
into the shade. The little engine was in its day the sensation 
of London in scientific and mechanical circles. It was visited 
by a large number of men of reputation, as well as by curious 
crowds of sightseers, and for many years after was a theme of 
discussion in engineering circles. Among those who called to 
visit this new motor was Lord Althorp, afterward Earl Spen- 
cer, then Chancellor of the Exchequer and Ministerial leader in 
the House of Commons. He was accompanied by Mr. Brunei, 
the distinguished engineer and citizen of two worlds, whose 
name is associated in London with the Thames Tunnel, and in 
New York with the Bowery Theatre of his designing. Mr. 
Brunei was not favorably impressed. Believing that his judg- 
ment was founded on an erroneous impression of the new pow- 

* Dictionary of the Arts of Life and Civilization. By Sir Bichard Phi- 
lips. London, 1883. 


er, Ericsson entered into a lively discussion with him. This 
was continued by correspondence, with the usual result of es- 
tablishing each party to the controversy more firmly in his own 

Professor Michael Faraday, however, declared by John Tyn- 
dall to be " the greatest experimental philosopher that the 
world has ever seen," was prepared to give a hospitable wel- 
come to Ericsson's theories and studied his new engine with 
the greatest attention and interest. He refused to accept the 
condemnation passed upon it by nearly all the leading scien- 
tific men of that day, and denied that the principle on which it 
was based was unsound. Ericsson counted with great confi- 
dence upon the results expected to follow Faraday's advocacy 
of his invention, for the distinguished investigator announced 
his intention of delivering a lecture upon it at the theatre of 
the Eoyal Institution, London. A large audience was attracted 
by this announcement, including many gentlemen of distin- 
guished scientific reputation. Just as Faraday was prepar- 
ing to appear upon the platform he came to the conclusion 
that he had made a mistake as to the principle of the expan- 
sion of air upon which the action of the machine was depend- 
ent. He accordingly commenced his lecture, greatly to the 
disappointment of Ericsson, by the announcement that he was 
unable to explain why the engine worked at all. He confined 
himself, therefore, to an explanation of the regenerative appa- 
ratus, for using the heat over and over again in the production 
of force. " To this part of the invention he rendered ample 
justice, and explained it in that felicitous style to which he is 
indebted for the reputation he deservedly enjoys, as the most 
agreeable and successful lecturer in England. 1 " * 

The caloric engine of 1833 was a sore puzzle to the savans 
of that day. They were unwilling to accept Ericsson's theories 
and claims concerning it, but their own opinions as to the nat- 
ure of heat were not sufficiently settled to enable them to ex- 
plain clearly their skepticism. Aristotle had told them that the 
first principle in nature, through all of its manifestations, was 

* A Lecture on the Late Improvements in Steam Navigation and the Arts 
of Naval Warfare, with a brief Notice of Ericsson's Caloric Engine, delivered 
before the Boston Lyceum, by John O. Sargent. New York, 1844. 


unity, and that these manifestations were always reducible to 
motion as their foundation, and Bacon had declared that " the 
very essence of heat or the substantial self of heat is motion," 
but the science of thenno-dynamics was not yet established on 
the present basis of theory and experiment. It was not until 
sixteen years later, in 1849, that Joule, in his paper before the 
Royal Society, presented his final conclusion as to the mechani- 
cal equivalent of heat, and established the existence of an exact 
relation between heat and force. 

The regenerator was correct in theory, as subsequent ex- 
perience has shown, but its advantages were to some extent 
neutralized by the obstruction it offered to the free passage 
of air. Other practical difficulties presented themselves in an 
engine that required 450 F. of heat instead of the temperature 
of 212 at which water is turned into steam. Oxidation soon 
destroyed the pistons, valves, and other working parts. 

Ericsson's use of high temperature in an air engine seems 
to have suggested the use of a similar apparatus to increase 
the temperature of steam. Accordingly his next invention was 
a super-heating condensing steam-engine. It consisted of two 
sixteen-inch cylinders and had a stroke of eighteen inches. The 
power was communicated through cog-wheels to a double-acting 
pump, thirty inches in diameter and thirty inches stroke. Steam 
was generated at only eight pounds above the atmosphere. In 
Watt's time five to ten pounds was the ordinary pressure and 
it has since risen as high as seventy-five or even one hundred 
pounds. With this low pressure the engine proved to be eco- 
nomical. But here again arose the difficulty attending the use of 
high temperatures. The lubricants were carbonized, and the 
pistons, left without protection from friction, were rapidly de- 

In the intervals of his study of new motors, Ericsson found 
time to perfect a variety of minor inventions. Most of these 
appear to have been more ingenious than profitable. There 
was at least one exception. This was a sounding instrument 
constructed upon the principle of measuring depths by the 
compression of air, and anticipating by many years the similar 
device for which credit has been given to Sir William Thom- 
son. It was patented in England and the United States, sub- 


sequently improved, and under the name of u Ericsson's Sea 
Lead " came into extensive use. Thousands were sold and the 
instrument stood the test of many years' trial in the British and 
American mercantile and naval marine, and was especially ap- 
proved of by the hydrographic bureaus of the two govern- 
ments. By means of tallow, held in the usual manner by a cav- 
ity in the base, it was determined whether the lead had touched 
bottom or not, and a dial registered the depth in fathoms. Sir 
William Thomson's instrument, like that of Ericsson before it, 
is based upon the theory that the pressure of the sea for each 
succeeding fathom of descent increases in a definite and practi- 
cally direct ratio. The difference in the two instruments is 
in the method of registering the pressure. In Ericsson's in- 
strument this is done by noting on the dial the height to 
which the column of water ascends against the pressure of the 
air ; in Sir William Thomson's, by the change the rising water 
effects in the color of tubes lined with chromate of silver. 

The anxiety to make quick passages, and the temptation to 
avoid the delay occasioned by the old method of taking sound- 
ings, resulted in the loss of many fine ships. As soundings 
could be taken by the new lead without stopping the vessel, it 
was welcomed with enthusiasm by those who tested it. The 
British Admiralty referred it for trial to Lieutenant Philip 
Bisson, K. N. After testing it for nine days, at depths varying 
from five hundred to six hundred fathoms, he reported, saying : 
" Respecting the accuracy of the instrument, I found it perfect ; 
and as to simplicity I need only say that all my crew soon un- 
derstood its use. And on these grounds I can strongly recom- 
mend this instrument as being of great practical utility. I took 
accurate soundings in sixty fathoms from a vessel going at the 
rate of six knots." Sir William Thomson's machine has since 
taken soundings in one hundred and twenty fathoms from a 
vessel moving sixteen knots an hour, and this could have been 
done with Ericsson's. Captain Ogden, U. S. S. Decatur, re- 
ported that it never failed to give correct soundings, and that it 
was of great use in running in the night along shoals and reefs 
in the Indian Ocean. " No commander who has ever used 
one of them," lie said, " would be willing to be without it." 
Speaking of this instrument, Ericsson says : " It was contrived 


in conjunction, with. Francis B. Ogden, Esq., U. 8. Consul at 
Liverpool, a gentleman practically skilled as a sailor and known 
for Iris scientific attainments. The writer lias great pleasure 
in according to Mr. Ogden the principal merit of this very use- 
ful instrument." Doubtless the idea was Ogden's, and the de- 
velopment of the mechanical details Ericsson's. As finally 
completed it was known as " Ericsson's Improved Sounding In- 
strument," and a patent for improvements on it was taken out 
as late as September 23, 1863. 

When Ericsson arrived in England there were some 2,500 
miles of canals in operation in the United Kingdom, and by the 
time the railroads appeared as a rival to check their growth, 
the mileage had increased to 4,000 miles. The traffic upon 
these artificial water-ways, connecting the natural watercourses, 
was an important factor in commercial enterprise. The result 
of the Eainhill trial of locomotives had* greatly alarmed the 
canal proprietors as to the future of their property. Ericsson 
nought with others to find some means of enlarging the capacity 
of the canals. In connection with C. B. Yignoles he patented 
a plan for propelling canal-boats by placing on board a steam- 
engine and using it to set in motion two rollers, pinching be- 
tweon them a flat bar of Iron fastened to a wooden rail running 
along the bank. This was simply the application of a device 
previously invented by Ericsson, and designed primarily to en- 
able locomotives to ascend heavy grades. It was originally 
supposed that it would be impossible for a locomotive to draw 
trains of cars even up ordinary grades without some such de- 
vice, and among those suggested was the one appearing in the 
illustration. The railroad on Mount Cenis was constructed 
over thirty years later on Ericsson's plan.* 

In 1834 Ericsson tested on the Regent's Canal a system of 
propulsion by movable shutters resembling Venetian blinds. 
These shutters projected beyond the stern post of the boat and 
were set in motion by a steam cylinder placed in the bottom of 
the vessel parallel with the keel. The speed obtained was 
satisfactory, but the movement of the shutters jarred the 
mechanism so much that it could not be made to work continu- 
ously. In a modification of this system, patented in 1834, the 

*See New York Times, March 18, 1866. 



propelling blades were operated by the engine and the jarring 
motion was thus avoided. This was applied to a canal-boat in 
France with economical results. 

A hydrostatic weighing machine was another of Ericsson's 
inventions during his residence in England. For this a prize 
was awarded by the Society of Arts. Its inventor had given 
much attention to hydrostatics and had noted, without reason- 
ing concerning it, this remarkable peculiarity of fluids : " with 

a specific gravity only one-twentieth part that of gold, water 
holds, bulk for bulk, a greater quantity of heat, and while, so 
light that no substance once immersed in it can ever rise from 
its surface, except in an aeriform state, it resists pressure to a 
degree nearly equal to that of the metals themselves." "Who 
can prove," asks Ericsson, "that the waters on the surface of 
the globe would not ages ago have become crusted over with 
solid matter, and the world converted into a parched desert, 


but for its remarkable property of submerging and retaining 
every solid inanimate substance, permitting only a partial escape 
in the aeriform state?" Believing that a fuller knowledge 
should be acquired of the mechanical laws governing this mys- 
terious combination of matter, he invented an apparatus for 
testing the compressibility of water. This he called the "hy- 
drostatic gauge." The measurement was effected by means 
of mercury brought into contact with distilled water at sixty 
degrees, this water being subjected to hydrostatic pressure. A 
compression of TT nrihnnr was tlius 1>eadil J detected in a column 
of water only a few feet high. The possibilities of this instru- 
ment were of course limited to the strength of the material of 
which it was composed. This, Ericsson estimated at two hun- 
dred thousand pounds per square inch of section. As he had 
no time to experiment with this device, to determine the pre- 
cise relations of force and compression characterizing a fluid, 
he placed it in the London Crystal Palace Exposition of 1851, 
with a hydraulic machine constructed for the purpose of test- 
ing it. 

In 1836 Ericsson patented a machine for cutting files auto- 
matically. One model was put into operation at Sheffield and 
another in Belgium. Several files could be cut at one time, and 
in cutting taper files the force of the blow was proportioned to 
the width and depth of the cut at different parts of the file. 
For double-cut files two machines were used, the bed of one 
inclining to the right and that of the other to the left, to give 
proper inclination to the rows of teeth crossing one another. 
For c> floats," or files with a single row of teeth, and for round 
and half-round files a straight bed was used. Two beds were 
employed on each, machine, so that the " blanks " could be ad- 
justed upon one while the other was cutting. The machine 
made two hundred and forty strokes in a minute ; three 
times the rate of handwork. As these blows were of uniform 
strength, steel of uniform hardness was required, and with this 
excellent files could be made. 

Another steam-engine was added to the list of inventions 
about this time and applied to a canal-boat in France, a patent 
being taken out there, as well as in England and the United 
States. It was a " semi-rotary engine," the steam cylinder con- 


taining a piston projecting like the spoke of a wheel from a 
central axis. This piston was moved back and forth by the ac- 
tion of the steam through an arc of three hundred degrees: 
and imparted a continuous rotation to the driving-shaft by the 
means of a peculiar application of "friction disks." It was in- 
genious but not economical. A semi-rotary engine was among 
the ideas patented by John Watt in 1782. If equal power 
could be thus obtained, rotary engines would have the great 
advantage of compactness of construction. There are two dif- 
ficulties: first in securing a satisfactory packing of the piston, 
without excessive friction, and next in the loss of effective 
pressure in consequence of the resistance of the steam behind 
the piston. 

Ericsson had now been ten years in England, and during 
this time he had patented thirty inventions, considered by him 
of sufficient importance to claim a place in a list I have before 
me in his handwriting. It was prepared in 1863 and includes 
just one hundred inventions, after the precedent of u The Cen- 
tury of Invention," written in 1655 by Edward Somerset, Mar- 
quis of Worcester, who in his turn may have derived his idea 
from the u Centuria di Secret! Politic!, Cimichi, e Natnrali,' 5 
by Francesco Scarioni of Parma (Venice, 1626). 

Very little is to be learned concerning the details of Erics- 
son's life in London. We find him recorded on his patents as 
an engineer, located; October 10, 1834, at " Union Wharf, Al- 
bany Street, Eegents Park;" July 13, 1836, at " Brook Street, 
New Road," and on July 6, 1839, at " Cambridge Terrace, 
Hyde Park." He was an agreeable companion, and by no 
means unsocial in his nature, but constant occupation gave 
him small opportunity for the ordinary intercourse of society. 
Still, he was an admirer of ladies in his own way and did not 
scorn to trim his plumage accordingly. In matters of dress 
he was at that time very particular and maintained an extensive 
wardrobe. His friendships were usually the result of profes- 
sional association, and through them he secured a circle of ac- 
quaintance sufficiently large for the limited need of social in- 
tercourse, since lie was less dependent than most men on human 

Among Ms earliest acquaintances in England , was IMLr. 
. 6 

82 LIFE or JOHN EEicssoisr. 

Charles Seidler. The wife of Mr. Seidler had a half-sister, 
Amelia Byam. "When Ericsson first knew her brother-in-law, 
Amelia was a child of ten years. She grew into a lovely 
woman, the most fascinating he had ever seen, as he was accus- 
tomed to say, intelligent, generous in disposition, cultivated, 
and a fine musician, as well as very handsome. Her father, 
Edward Byarn, was the second son of Sir Charles Byam, at one 
time British Commissioner for Antigua, and her uncle, Rev. 
Richard Burke Byam, was for forty years rector of Kew and 
Petersham, where he confirmed several members of the royal 

When Amelia Byam was nineteen years old, and John 
Ericsson thirty-three, they were married by license, on October 
15, 1836, by the incumbent of St. John's Church, Padding- 
ton. The witnesses signing their names to the register of the 
church were Mr. and Mrs. Seidler and their daughter ; Mrs. 
Seidler's sister, Louisa Browning ; John Braithwaite, Ericsson's 
partner; and " John Milner." Referring to this occasion thirty 
years after, the bridegroom said : " I have not been in a church 
since March, 1826, except once in London, when on a certain 
morning I committed the indiscretion of not only going inside 
the holy room, but of also appearing before the altar and there 
giving a promise difficult to keep." 

Speaking of one of his rivals, he said : " That the beautiful 
and musical Miss Byam preferred the foreign engineer hurt 
the proud banker's vanity exceedingly, as he was one of the 
handsomest men in London." 

A niece of Mrs. Ericsson married, in 1868, Colonel, afterward 
Lieutenant-General, Sir Trevor Chute, K.C.B., of the British 
army, and one of the Chutes "of " Chute Hall," England. She 
appears frequently in Ericsson's domestic correspondence as 
"the magnificent Lady Chute," descriptive in this case, no doubt, 
but not necessarily so, for he was accustomed to relieve the strain 
of exactitude required in his daily pursuits by indulging in hy- 
perbole when he found occasion to deal with ladies. His na- 
tive Swedish is said to lend itself to this form of expression 
more readily than any other European language, except the 
Spanish. Lady Chute lived in New Zealand, and of Erics- 
son it must be said that his admiration for women* was in in- 


verse ratio to their social demands upon him. He was willing 
enough to be entertained by them when the humor pleased 
him, but quite unwilling to assume any responsibility for them 
necessitating the occupation of his valuable time. He was him- 
self accustomed to say that he was not fitted for domestic 



Fortunate Result of the Bainhill Contest. Ericsson's Viking Blood.- 
Studies in Naval Engineering and Gunnery. Relations to Captain 
Robert F Stockton. The Screw Propeller. The First Steam Tug. 
Early Experiments with the Screw. 

"I^TEITHEB, the comments of the critics nor the failure of his 
JL^l plans could discourage Ericsson's belief in the principle 
of his hot-air engine. In it he proposed to substitute air for 
water, as a medium for transferring heat into power, and thus 
escape the danger attending the explosive properties of steam. 
But what particularly fascinated his imagination was the idea 
that he could, by the use of his " regenerator/' or respirator, as 
it should more properly be called, save the waste of heat at- 
tending its use in the steam-engine. Brand e describes the 
respirator as " an instrument covering the mouth with a net- 
work of fine wire, through which persons of weak lungs can 
breathe without injury. The wire being warmed by the breath, 
tempers the cold air from without." * 

A similar net-work of wire was used in a second caloric en- 
gine contrived by Ericsson in 1838, the u orifice through which 
the air to be expanded by heat 'into working force passed in 
and out being covered by a metal box wherein sheets of wire 
gauze were closely packed, their meshes receiving heat from 
the warm air passing out and transferring it to the cold air 
coming in. 

Theoretically, this " regenerator " would prevent all waste 
of heat, except such as was lost by radiation from the machine 
itself ; practically this result was only partially accomplished. 
The name given to the engine indicated that Ericsson was at this 
date possessed by the idea which, as Professor Eankine tells us, 

* Branded Dictionary of Science, Literature, and Art. 


"has been the chief impediment to the progress of the accurate- 
knowledge of the laws of the relations between heat and motive 
power " the idea that the phenomena of heat are caused by 
the presence, in greater or less quantity, of a substance called 
" caloric.'- * Heat was not then recognized as a mere form of 
activity, and no account was taken of the large amount of heat 
necessarily transformed into work. ]No sufficient provision was 
made in the furnaces for this loss of power, and unexpected dif- 
ficulties were met with in heating at all a substance so little 
affected by radiant heat as air. Hence, the inventor did not at 
this time go beyond the construction of a model engine for the 
purposes of experiment. 

In the interval of five years between this experiment and 
the preceding one, with the first caloric engine, in 1833, Erics- 
son had made good use of his studies into the conservation of 
heat by improving the steam-engine, so as to lessen the loss of 
heat attending the process of condensing the waste steam into 
svater. With these labors he found time for others, destined to 
produce even more important results. 

[Reviewing his life toward its close, he was accustomed to 
say that his failure to secure the much-coveted prize in the 
Rainhill locomotive contest was most fortunate for him. With 
success would have come immediate prosperity and correspond- 
ing temptation ; as it was, his struggle with adverse fortune 
continued until his blood was cooler, and the heat and passion 
of youth had in a measure abated. He was naturally an in- 
tense man in every way, and when the full tide of life poured 
through his veins they were fairly bursting under the constant 
strain of a vigorous vitality that must find relief in some form 
<>f activity. With his great mental power and intense n'ervous 
force were combined enormous muscular strength and corre- 
sponding physical passion. He was, in short, in eveiy respect, 
a high- pressure engine. 

The taste for strong drink is a Swedish characteristic, and in 
his younger years Ericsson shared it, though he never permitted 
it to master him ; still, until he changed his habit, when he was 
about fifty years old, he was accustomed to take his brandy and 
his heavy sherry, if not immoderately or imprudently, at least 
* Rankine's Manual of the Steam Engine and other Prime Movers. 1861- 


with studious regularity. With his ardent temperament he 
felt that idleness, or the temptation of leisurely social inter- 
course, would have put a lion in his path, for it was the time 
of high living and hard drinking in England. From this pos- 
sible^danger, as well as from other temptations, he was saved 
by the strain of constant occupation. 

Naturally amiable and generous, Ericsson was, at the same 
time, a man of ungovernable temper. Like the Scandinavian 
hero Odin, "lie looked so fair and noble when he sat with his 
friends that every mind was delighted, but when he was in a 
heat then he looked fierce to his foes. 3 ' He was controlled by 
a strong sense of justice, but he did not readily brook opposi- 
tion, aiid he had his experiences of the " Berserk fury," such as 
compelled the Worse warriors of old to bite their shields, and 
to wrestle with the stones and trees, lest they slay their friends 
in their rage. " There was no king who would not give them 
what they wanted rather than suffer their overbearing ; " * and 
they were few who cared to encounter John Ericsson when the 
Berserk fury was on him. 

At the time when Ericsson was first busied with his caloric 
experiments steam navigation upon the ocean was opening the 
way to new conquests over space. In 1807, on August 7th, 
the Catherine of Clermont, nicknamed by the derisive 
" Fulton's Folly? left her wharf at New York, followed by 
taunting shouts of " God help you, Bobby ! " " Bring us back 
a chip off the North Pole," "A fool and his money," etc., 
and steamed up the North River to set the farmers on its 
banks fleeing home with the tidings that the devil was sailing 
up the Hudson " on a saw-mill." 

In 1832, the year before the caloric engine appeared, came 
the first wild suggestion of the possibility of establishing a 
regular line of steamers between England and America. In 
1838, when the improved caloric engine was finished, the pio- 
neer of the ocean line, the Great Western, crossed the Atlantic 
in fifteen days; just equalling the time of the sailing ship 
Pennsylvania, which three months before had made " the 
shortest passage as yet." 

To Ericsson seems to have been apparent ten years earlier 
* Vide Bu Ghaillu's Viking Age. 


what did not become clear to others until this experiment in 
ocean navigation, that steamers could not compete in a fair con- 
test with sailing vessels until there was a radical revolution in 
the means of applying power. Especially did he see that the 
objections taken by the old salts to the use of steam for naval 
vessels were well founded, so long as the imprisoned steam 
was in danger of being let loose by exploding shell, and the 
clumsy paddle-wheels, with the machinery coupled to them, to 
be torn to pieces when most needed in order to escape the per- 
ils of battle. Some time previous to 1833 he was called upon 
by a carrying company in London to conduct numerous trials 
with submerged propellers on the London & Birmingham 
Canal, and we find evidence that he was certainly conducting 
such experiments as early as 1833. Describing his subsequent 
progress, he said, in a letter to John Bourne, published in the 
London Engineer, December 31, 1875 : 

1835. Designed a rotary propeller to be actuated by steam power, 
consisting of a series of segments of a screw, attached to a thin broad 
hoop supported by arms so twisted as also to form part of a screw. The 
propeller subsequently applied to the steamship Princeton was identical 
with my said design of 1835. Even the mode adopted to determine, by 
geometrical construction, the twist of the blades and arms of the Prince- 
ton's and other propellers was identical with my design of the Tear last 

1836. Constructed a small propeller boat, operated by steam power, 
in a large circular cistern, for the satisfaction of certain parties intending 
to take an interest in my invention, and to furnish means for securing 
letters patent for the same. 

1837. Designed an engine for imparting motion directly to the screw 
propeller shaft, consisting of two steam cylinders placed diagonally at 
right angles to each other, the connecting-rods of which were coupled to 
a common crank-pin. This engine was applied, in the year 1838, to the 
iron screw steamer Robert F. Stockton, which crossed the Atlantic, under 
canvas, 1839, and was afterward employed as a tug-boat on the river 
Delaware for upward of a quarter of a century. 

This last was the first direct-acting screw propeller engine 
ever built. 

The large circular cistern here referred to was one of the 
public baths in London. A steam boiler was placed over this 
and steam from it conducted through a pipe to a small engine 


set in the little boat. The accuracy of the inventor's theoreti- 
cal calculation was shown by the complete success of the ex- 
periments. On the first trial the toy boat, less than two feet 
in length, as soon as the stearn was turned on started on a 
voyage around the basin at the rate of more than three miles 
an hour. This was an instance of the nice application of theory 
to practice for which Ericsson's career was remarkable. If he 
could not always control the conditions of economical success, 
he never proposed mechanical absurdities or impossibilities. 

His chief rival for the honor of introducing the screw, 
Francis Pettit Smith, was at this time striving to work out the 
problem of using the old device of an Archimedean screw by 
" rule of thumb/' for lie was a farmer and not an engineer or 
mechanic. Only by the accidental breaking of the long screw 
he was using did he discover that he was on the wrong track. 
His labors undoubtedly did much to smooth the way for the 
early introduction of the propeller, and up to the time that 
Smith and Ericsson appeared no permanent or practical prog- 
ress had been made in screw propulsion. In 1836, when their 
patents were taken out, there was no vessel propelled by a screw 
in existence. Experiments, indeed, been made in England, 
in America, and in France, showing that by means of a screw, 
a vessel might be driven through the water. But the recol- 
lection of these experiments had in a great measure died out, 
and what remained of it operated rather as a discouragement 
than a provocative to enterprise, since it carried the presump- 
tion that if the mode of propelling by the screw had been found 
satisfactory it would not have been relinquished.* 

Shortly after Ericsson's patent was granted, the Francis B. 
Ogden^ a vessel 45 feet long, 8 feet beam, and 3 feet draught, 
was built for the purpose of effectually testing the power of the 
screw, and launched upon the Thames in the spring of 1837. 
Two propellers, 5 feet 3 inches in diameter, were so fitted to 
the stern of this vessel that either could be used. " So suc- 
cessful was the experiment that when steam was turned on for 
the first time, the boat at once moved at a speed of upward of 
ten miles an hour, without a single alteration being required 
in her machinery. This miniature steamer had such power, 

* Treatise on the Screw Propeller. By John Bourne, C.E. London, 1852. 


too, that she towed a schooner of one hundred and forty tons 
burden at the rate of seven miles an hour, and the American 
packet ship Toronto at the rate of more than four and a half 
knots an hour against the tide." "This fact," Mr. Sargent 
tells us, u excited no little interest among the boatmen of the 
Thames, who were astonished at the sight of this novel craft 
moving against wind and tide without any visible agency of 
propulsion, and, ascribing to it some supernatural origin, they 
united in giving it the name of the Flying Demi. But the 
engineers of London regarded the experiment with silent neg- 
lect." * 

In the summer of 1837, Ericsson invited the Lords of the 
British Admiralty to take an excursion in tow of his experimen- 
tal steamboat. The Ogden was taken to Somerset House, the 
headquarters of the British Navy, and lashed alongside the Ad- 
miralty barge containing the First Lord, Sir Charles Adams ; 
the Surveyor of the Navy, Sir William Symonds; the Hydro- 
grapher, Captain Beaufort, and Sir "William Edward Parry, the 
hero of five expeditions to the Arctic seas, who had recently as- 
sumed the duties of the newly created office of " Comptroller of 
Steam Machinery for the Eoyal Navy.'' Other gentlemen of 
scientific or naval distinction accompanied this part} 7 . The 
results of the expedition are best told in the language of Mr. 
John O, Sargent, the friend of Ericsson for half a century. 
He described it while the circumstances were still fresh in recol- 
lection, in his lecture delivered before the Boston Lyceum in 
December, 184:3,* as follows : 

In the anticipation of a severe scrutiny from so distinguished, a 
personage as the Chief Constructor of the British Navy, the inventor 
had carefully prepared plans of his new mode of propulsion, which were 
spread on the damask cloth of the magnificent barge. To his utter as- 
tonishment, as we may well imagine, this scientific gentleman did not 
appear to take the slightest interest in his explanations. On the con- 
trary, with those expressive shrugs of the shoulder and shakes of the 
head which convey so much to the bystander without absolutely com- 
mitting the actor, with an occasional sly, mysterious, undertone remark 
to his colleagues, he indicated very plainly that though his humanity 
would not permit him to give a worthy man cause for so much unhappi- 

* Sargent's Lecture on the Late Improvements in Steam Navigation, etc. 


ness, yet that " he could an' if lie would " demonstrate by a single word 
the utter futility of the whole invention. 

Meanwhile the little steamer, with her precious charge, proceeded 
at a steady progress of ten miles an hour, through the arches of the lofty 
South wark and London Bridges, toward Liinehouse, and the steam- 
engine manufactory of the Messrs. Seaward. Their lordships having 
landed and inspected the huge piles of ill-shaped cast-iron, misdenom- 
inated marine engines, intended for some of his Majesty's steamers, 
with a look at their favorite propelling apparatus, the Morgan paddle- 
wheel, they re-embarked and were safely returned to Somerset House, 
by the disregarded, noiseless, arid unseen propeller of the new steamer. 

On parting, Sir Charles Adams, with a sympathizing air, shook the 
inventor cordially by the hand, and thanked him for the trouble he had 
been at in showing him and his friends this interesting experiment ; add- 
ing, that he feared he had put himself to too great an expense and trou- 
ble on the occasion. Notwithstanding this somewhat ominous finale of 
the day's excursion, Ericsson felt confident that their lordships could 
not fail to perceive the great importance of the invention. To his sur- 
prise, however, a few days afterward, a friend put into his hands a letter 
written by Captain Beaufort, at the suggestion, probably, of the Lords 
of the Admiralty, in. which that gentleman, who had himself witnessed 
the experiment, expressed regret to state that their lordships had cer- 
tainly been very much disappointed at its result. The reason for the dis- 
appointment was altogether inexplicable to the inventor, for the speed 
attained at this trial far exceeded anything that had ever been accom- 
plished by any paddle-wheel steamer on so small a scale. 

An accident soon relieved his astonishment, and explained the mys- 
terious givings-out of Sir "William Symonds, alluded to in our notice of 
the excursion. The subject having been started at a dinner-table when 
a friend of Ericsson was present, Sir William ingeniously and ingenu- 
ously remarked, that "even if the propeller had the power of pro- 
pelling a vessel, it would be found altogether useless in practice, 
because the power being applied in the stern it would be absolutely impos- 
sible to make the vessel steer." It may not be obvious to everyone how 
our naval philosopher derived his conclusion from his premises ; but his 
hearers doubtless readily acquiesced in the oracular proposition, and 
were much amused afe the idea of undertaking to steer a vessel when 
the power was applied in her stern. 

But we may well excuse the lords of the British Admiralty for 
exhibiting no interest in the invention when we reflect that the engi- 
neering corps of the empire were arrayed in opposition to it ; alleging 
that it was constructed upon erroneous principles, and full of practical 
defects, and regarding its failure as too certain to authorize any specu- 
lations even of its success. The plan was specially submitted to many 
distinguished engineers, and was publicly discussed in the scientific jour- 
nals ; and fchere was no one but the inventor who refused to acquiesce 


in the truth of tlie numerous demonstrations proving the vast loss of 
mechanical power which must attend this proposed substitute for the 
old-fashioned paddle-wheel. 

Mr. Francis B. Ogden was a gentleman well known at that 
time to travelling Americans, as Consul of the United States at 
Liverpool, He was a liberal-minded man and one whose prac- 
tical experience in steam navigation made him an invaluable ally 
to Ericsson. Though not an engineer by profession, Mr. Ogden 
had^ been distinguished, Mr. Sargent tells us, " for his eminent 
attainments in mechanical science, and is entitled to the honor 
of having first applied the important principle of the expansive 
power of steam, and of having originated the idea of employ- 
ing right-angular cranks on marine engines. His practical ex- 
perience and long study of the subject for he was the first 
to stem the waters of the Ohio and Mississippi, and the first 
to navigate the ocean by the power of steam alone enabled him 
at once to perceive the truth of the inventor's demonstrations ; 
but not only did he admit their truth, he also joined Cap- 
tain Ericsson in constructing the first experimental boat," and 
to this boat his name was given. 

In Mr. Ogden Ericsson found an attentive listener to his 
engineering ideas, and a warm sympathizer with projects so 
novel that they confused the mind of the average Englishman, 
who hates a thing merely because it is new. To a man pur- 
sued almost to his death by the tribe of the 'twill-never-doists, 
acquaintance with such a man as Ogden was like the shadow of 
a great rock in a weary land. " How I hate that expression ' it 
will never do,'" says Hayden the unfortunate artist to whom 
England owes its possession of the Elgin marbles in his "Lec- 
tures on Painting and Design ; " " it has always been the fa- 
vorite watch-cry of those in all ages and all countries who look 
on all schemes for the advancement of mankind as indirect re- 
flections on the narrowness of their own comprehensions." 

This was not Ogden's first venture with Ericsson, for I find 
the record of an obligation he entered into in 1831, binding 
himself in the penal sum of 20,000 as assignee for Ericsson 
of the rights in the United States "to a certain invention, 
being an improvement in the application of steam for median- 


ical purposes." This is evidently the steam-drum, in which 
William Laird also invested. Ogden, being a citizen, took out 
the patent in the United States, and assigned to Ericsson one- 
half interest. It was through Mr. Ogden, too, that Ericsson ap- 
plied at Washington, in 1837, for a patent for his propeller. 

" One thing is forever good : that one thing is success." 
" "Will it pay ? " is the supreme test of success in contemporary 
appreciation of mechanical improvements, and Ericsson's inven- 
tions, as we have seen, did not always pay. Sometimes because 
the result he sought could be more economically accomplished 
in other ways, if less efficiently, and as often because a long ed- 
ucational process was required to convince those he wished to 
benefit of their need of what his genius had provided for them. 
The reception, no less than the conception, of. new ideas neces- 
sitates evolution, and this is a weary world for those who see 
much beyond their fellows. Ericsson's investments in " fu- 
tures," as they would be called on the exchanges, were too 
heavy, and the financial difficulties resulting from this impru- 
dence were increased by the enforcement of an obligation as- 
sumed on behalf of a friend. The firm of Braithwaite & 
Ericsson had failed, and the bailiffs were on the track of the 
junior member. So, for a time, he enjoyed the hospitalities 
of "The Fleet" as a foreign debtor. In the year 1837, so 
disastrous to many others, he took the benefit of the u act for 
the relief of insolvent debtors," and secured his discharge in 

We had in our navy at this time, a sailor, Robert F. Stock- 
ton, who united qualities rarely found in combination. An ac- 
complished and experienced officer, showing an intelligent inter- 
est in all that concerned his profession, he was at the same time 
a man of fortune and family influence, as well as an important 
factor in the politics of his native State of K"ew Jersey, after- 
ward representing it in the Senate of the United States. Lieu- 
tenant Stockton was building the Delaware & Ilaritan Canal, 
and had invested in it his fortune, and that of his family. The 
financial difficulties of 1837 compelled him to visit England to 
procure the means for completing the canal. There he made 
the acquaintance of Ericsson, no doubt through Mr. Ogden, 
who was a fellow- Jersey in an, and a representative, as Stockton 


himself was, of a family honorably identified for several gene- 
rations with the history of the State. Robert Ogden, the 
grandfather of one, was a member of the Continental Congress, 
and the ancestor of the other was one of the signers of the 
Declaration of Independence. 

Thus it happened that Ericsson and Stockton were brought 
together just at the time when the inventor of the propeller was 
most in need of influential assistance to enable him to develop, 
in some more congenial clime, schemes in danger of perishing 
under the chilling influence of British hostility and indiffer- 
ence. To Stockton the State of Kew Jersey x is indebted for 
the early development of her railroad and canal system, and 
his experience in this work, supplementing his naval training, 
led him to give much attention to the construction of steam 
engines, and the subject of applying steam to war vessels at a 
time when most naval officers were still insisting upon the ad- 
vantages of sails. 

Stockton was induced to accompany Ericsson in one of his 
excursions on the Thames on the Francis B. Ogden^ and at 
once appreciated the value of the invention received with such 
cool indifference by the officials of the British Isavy. He com- 
prehended immediately the revolution it was destined to work 
in naval warfare, and this was sufficient to fix his attention 
without reference to its commercial value. 

His perceptions were quick, his self-reliance was unlimited, 
and he was nearly as energetic as Ericsson himself in carrying 
out a plan once conceived. A single trip from London Bridge 
to Greenwich was sufficient to induce him to at once order from 
the inventor two iron boats for the United States, to be fitted 
with his steam machinery and propeller. 

" I do not want," said Captain Stockton, " the opinions of 
your scientific men ; what I have seen this day satisfies me." 

A dinner at Greenwich ended this excursion and Stock- 
ton, who added oratory to his other accomplishments, made a 
speech declaring to Ericsson, " We'll make your name ring on 
the Delaware, as soon as we get your propeller there." 

Returning to the United States, Stockton was, in December, 
1838, promoted to captain and ordered to the Mediterranean as 
fleet-captain on board the flag-ship of Commodore Hull He 


was also made bearer of despatches to the American Minister 
to the court of St. James, and improved the opportunity of his 
visit to England to thoroughly inform himself as to the condi- 
tion of the marine armaments of Great Britain. He also found 
time to witness the trial of the screw steamer built for him, 
the Robert F. Stockton, and for further consultation with 
his friends Ogden and Ericsson. It would have been im- 
possible to find two men better fitted to assist Ericsson in the 
realization of his ambitious schemes with reference to marine 
propulsion, for the studies and experience enabling them to 
comprehend his plans had not closed their minds to new sug- 
gestions. "Stockton was, moreover/' as Philip Hone says in 
his "Diary," "not one of the timid sort, and did not often 
find his modesty crossing the path of his undertakings."* 

The Stockton was launched in the river Mersey on July 
7, 1838, and immediately fitted with her double cylinder, 
direct-acting engine and the patent spiral propeller. After 
several highly satisfactory trials with her at Liverpool, she was, 
on January 12, 1839, tried on the river Thames, in the pres- 
ence of Captain Stockton, Mr. Ogden, and about thirty other 
gentlemen invited to witness her performance. The London 
Times of that date mentions as present several distinguished 
British and Swedish naval officers, Mr. Yignoles, and other 
engineers, and Major-General Sir John Fox Eurgoyne a nat- 
ural son of the Enrgoyne of Saratoga surrender, the engineer- 
in-chief in the attack on ]N"ew Orleans, repulsed by Jackson, 
and the father of a son destined, thirty years later, to fall a 
victim, as a captain in the British navy, to Cowper Coles's at- 
tempt to rival Ericsson in marine construction. Sir John was 
at this time Chairman of the Board of Public Works and Com- 
missioner of Steam ISfavigation, etc., in Ireland. 

The results obtained with this vessel were considered at the 
time most extraordinary. The Times described them at length, 
announced that they appeared "quite conclusive as to the 
success of this important improvement in steam navigation," 
and forecasted " important changes in steam navigation " from 
its introduction. The Robert F. Stockton was an iron steam- 
boat, seventy feet in length on deck and ten feet beam, drawing 
* Diary of Philip Hone, vol. i., p. 273. 


three feet of water and propelled by a fifty-horse power engine. 
Of such engines the Times said : 

They may be made much stronger and more compact than ordinary 
marine-engines, in consequence of the power being applied directly to 
the shaft which works very near the bottom. This for sea-going vessels 
will be very important, and their original cost may be considerably re- 
duced, as all the paraphernalia of shafts, wheels, wheel-guards, etc., will 
be dispensed with. We were struck with the great regularity of the 
motion, not the slightest jar being perceptible. The engines consist of 
two cylinders sixteen inches in diameter with eighteen-inch stroke, and 
are worked by steam, of a pressure varying from thirty-five pounds to 
fifty-five pounds to the square inch, their construction is extremely sim- 
ple and evinces a knowledge of steam machinery by tlje inventor which 
is calculated to give additional confidence in the success of his propeller 
in all the varieties of its application for the canal, river, or ocean navi- 

The Stockton was built at Birkenliead, on the Mersey, by 
Messrs. John & Macgregor Laird, who were the pioneers in 
building iron vessels, one of their boats, the AlburJca, having 
been sent with the Landers to Africa to explore the Niger.*" 
From them, no doubt, Ericsson obtained thus early, ideas on the 
subject of iron ship construction of which lie was able, later in 
life, to make most effective use. 

Some gentleman, whose knowledge of the text of Shake- 
speare was obtained at second-hand, objected to one of his plays 
on hearing it for the first time, because it was too full of fa- 
miliar quotations to do credit to the author's originality. Erics- 
son was the subject of similar criticism in his old age. His 
knowledge of and experience with many mechanical contriv- 
ances in common use to-day dated so far back of any existing 
recollection that he was supposed to have copied from others 
what he, in fact, originated himself, or certainly first brought 
into use. The spectacle of saucy little steam-tugs drawing 
huge vessels after them at will, so familiar now in American 
waters, was wholly unknown to British seamen in 1838. So 
strange, indeed, that the stolid watermen watched the feats of 
towing on the Thames with the sort of curiosity attending a 
balloon ascension, as an entertaining exhibition in dynamics, 
wholly disconnected from any relation to the daily business of 
* Fairbairn's History and Progress of Iron Ship Building, p. 4. 


life. Even the commendation of the Times could not arouse 
in conservative British ship-owners, or naval officers, the ambi- 
tion to avail themselves of this new power. 

Just previous to this, in the winter of 1837, Ericsson's pro- 
peller had been fitted with great success to a canal boat of ten 
horse-power called the Novelty ^ plying upon the canal between 
Manchester and London, and realizing a speed of eight or nine 
miles an hour. " This," says Bourne, " is the first example of 
a screw boat being employed for commercial purposes; but 
this boat was in a short time laid up, owing to the failure of 
her owners. In the early part of 1839 another iron steamer, 
70 x 7 feet, with 14-horse-power engines, was built by Mr. J. 
T. Woodhouse, and fitted with Ericsson's propeller to, run on 
the Ashby-de-la-Zouche Canal, near Leicester, England. She 
attained a speed of nine to ten miles in deep water. These ex- 
periments were not repeated, and it required a struggle of years 
to persuade the British public and British officials of the value 
of the screw." * 

In his petition of 1850 to the Privy Council Ericsson tells 
us that the success attending these several vessels was, at the 
time, faithfully and favorably recorded in the Times news- 
paper, Mechanics Magazine^ the Civil Engineers and Archi- 
tects Journal^ and the London Journal of A.rts and Sciences. 

Although the importance, usefulness, and practicability of 
the invention were thus established, and public attention at- 
tracted to it, " yet so little was it then understood and such was 
the opposition and indifference of engineers and others inter- 
ested in the invention that no benefit resulted to the inventor." 

Ericsson further called the attention of the Privy Council 
to the fact that his patent " was the earliest in date, and that 
in a book recently published by Bennet Woodcrof t, Professor of 
Machinery in the University College of London, on < The Ori- 
gin and Progress of Steam Navigation,' it is admitted that 
your petitioner, John Ericsson, accomplished for the screw pro- 
peller in America and in England what Pulton did for the 
paddle-wheel in the former country,t which testimony your pe- 

* A Treatise on the Screw Propeller, by John Bourne, p. 88. London, 1852. 
f See Woodoroft's Sketch of the Origin and Progress of Steam Navigation, 
p. 102. London, 1848. 


titioners submit is the more valuable as proceeding from one 
who is himself the inventor of an improved propeller, and to 
whom your petitioners were wholly unknown. The efforts of 
your petitioners, and particularly your petitioner, the said John 
Ericsson, have mainly contributed to the introduction and prac- 
tical application of the screw as a marine propeller to the al- 
most incalculable benefit of this great commercial country.' 7 

This petition presents very fully, in formal language, a his- 
tory of its author's claims to the screw propeller. Various na- 
tions have claimed it for their citizens, just as they have claimed 
the steam-engine and other useful inventions. In front of the 
Polytechnic School at Vienna stands a bronze monument, 
erected in 1863, by a national subscription, to the memory of Jo- 
seph Ressel, the Austrian to whom his countrymen ascribe the 
first use of the screw. Ressel's first drawing was made in 1812, 
while he was a student in the University of Vienna ; his first 
experiments were made in 1826, with a barge driven by hand, 
and February 11, 1827, an Austrian patent was issued to him. 
In 1829 he applied his screw to a boat with an engine of six 
horse-power and made for a time six miles an hour. Then a 
steam-pipe burst and the police, whose heads were more occu- 
pied in those days witli the plots of Carbonari than with scien- 
tific investigation, put an end to further experiments. 

It is a curious fact that John Bourne, who devotes a treatise 
to the scz*ew propeller and describes one hundred and twenty- 
six different inventions, does not so much as mention the orig- 
inal of the Austrian monument In 1823, Captain Delisle, of 
the French Engineers, presented a memorial to the Minister 
of Marine describing a proposed method of propelling vessels 
by means of a submerged screw. No attention was paid to it 
and it was forgotten until revived in after years to furnish a 
pretext for the invasion of Ericsson's patent in France where 
his propeller was the first introduced and obtained a wide accept- 
ance. Weighing Ericsson in the balance with his chief rival, 
Smith, Bourne says: " Ericsson, previous to his connection 
with the screw, wa an accomplished engineer ; Smith was only 
an amateur, with almost everything except the leading idea 
to learn. Ericsson's mechanical resources gave him means of 
overcoming difficulties such as Smith did not possess; and 


Smith had therefore to accept expedients then usual among 
engineers as his starting-point, whereas Ericsson could reject 
those expedients in favor of others which his own ingenuity 
suggested. Thus, in bringing up the speed of the screw, Smith 
hadTto submit to the use of gearing, because that was the ex- 
pedient which was approved by orthodox engineers; but Erics- 
son threw the dogmas of engineers to the winds, and coupled 
the engine immediately to the propeller." * 

In March, 1815, Ericsson made affidavit that before the year 
1833 he had devoted much time and attention to the invention 
of stern propellers, having been appointed by a carrying com- 
pany in London to conduct numerous experiments in propelling 
canal-boats with submerged propellers in the London & Bir- 
mingham Canal. In 1833 his attention was particularly di- 
rected to the subject of oblique propulsion, on the principle 
for which he afterward obtained letters patent in England. 
He employed Elias Harrison, afterward Chief Engineer on the 
TL S. S. Princeton, to fit stern propellers of various patterns to 
a canal boat called the Frauds and belonging to Messrs. Robins 
& Mills, forwarders, 128 London Wall. All of these propel- 
lers were connected with the engine with a cylindrical iron 
shaft projecting through the centre of the stern-post and 
worked below the water-line. They were placed between the 
rudder and the stern-post, and were protected by an overhang 
which also gave support to the rudder from above ; wheel and 
rudder being supported from below by a flat iron bar bolted 
to the after end of the keel, extending beyond it and turning 
in the space between tins and the overhang. The same device 
was, toward the end of 1834, applied by Ericsson to a new canal 
boat called the Annatarius built by Robins & Mills, the over- 
hang in this case forming part of the boat itself. These facts 
are stated in an affidavit made by Harrison, who further states 
that the screw was thus put into practical operation on the An- 
natarius " before May, 1835, this deponent having been em- 
ployed by the aforesaid Robins & Mills as chief engineer run- 
ning the said boat for many months from that time." 

Farmer Smith's attention was not directed to the subject of 
screw propulsion until 1835, but he preceded Ericsson with his 
* Bourne's Treatise on the Screw Propeller, p. 90. 



English patent. It was dated May 31, 1836, Ericsson's July 
13, 1836, or six weeks later. That the latter carried his inven- 
tion into practice at once is shown by his statement and that 
of Count Yon Rosen to the Privy Council, as well as by contem- 
porary newspaper accounts. 

The Mechanics Magazine of June 3, 1837, described the 
towing of the American packet ship Toronto, of six hundred 
and thirty tons burden, on June 28, 1837, and published the 
certificates of the pilot and mate that the vessel was towed 
"at the rate of four and a half knots an hour against the tide." 
Two years later the same vessel was again towed by another 
propeller, and this led to some confusion of dates, upon which 
has been founded a denial of the original performance. The 
Enterprise, built for the Ashby-de-la-Zouche Canal, ran there 
for one season, but without profit to her owner. She was ac- 
cordingly transferred to the Trent and Mersey where she met 
with great success as a steam-tug hauling coal barges. 

Among Captain Ericsson's papers appears a letter from 
Count Yon Rosen enclosing this financial statement. It pre- 
sents a very interesting condensed history of his early relations 
to the propeller. 



1836. To cost of first experimental model 27 

< patent 150 

1837. ' Robins & Mills' canal boats machinery. . . 1,264 

Jan. 'model No. 2 26 

April ' experimental boat Ogden 394 

Nov. ' canal boat Itebm No. I 282 


Jan. 1, ' engine and propeller of the Hobert Stock- 
ton 1,529 

May 7, < Robins' canal boat 208 

*' 19, * Robins 1 experiment 115 

Aug. <modelNo.3 44 

l< 24, * Rossiere rotary engine and propeller 516 

ti u t u tt <i "..... 80 

u " ' * engine and propeller Stockton 37 

Dec. 7, * ' " " " 66 

" 31, * * Captain Ericsson's maintenance . ; 94 

1839. * 

Jan. 1, * * StoMon machinery. 196 

* * 19, * ' No. 8 rotary engine and propeller 404 

" 25, ' * Rossiere's rotary engine and propeller. . . . 304 

s d 

14 10 

17 2 

12 6 
16 11 

13 8 

2 6 

10 7 
8 1 

11 2 
5 2 

12 3 

13 8 


11 3 

17 8 

16 10 



Feb. 15, To cost of Stockton machinery. 

May 25, 

a u 

June 5, 

" 25, 
Sept. 2, 
Nov. 5, 
Dec. 31, 

Dec. 31. 


3 models 

engine and propeller for canal boat Atfiby- 


semi-rotary engine and propeller 

Captain Ericsson's maintenance 

Robins' canal boat 

Captain Ericsson's maintenance 

Stockton machinery 

Robins 1 canal boat 

Captain Ericsson's maintenance 

s d 

180 7 

248 19 7 

149 11 5 

562 17 

802 18 


27 17 



15 13 

249 12 


8,730 6 1 


1837. s d 

April 5, By cash Ogden and Stockton boats 95 

May 16, " " " " 170 

Sept. 13, old material canal boats 250 

Oct. 2, cash Robins & Mills 455 6 11 


Jan. 25, Ogden and Stockton 350 

March 1, Robins 130 

" 5, u 415 15 3 

April 22, Ogden and Stockton 400 

May 19, " " 156 9 4 

June 8, Robins 99 3 7 

28, Rossiere 100 

Aug. 24, " 160 

Oct. 2, Ogden s^di Stockton 550 


Jan. 5, Rossiere 180 

Feb. 20, Ogden and Stockton 442 11 

July 6, " " 572 12 

Aug. 3, AsTiby-de-la-Zo^Lche 290 

Dec. 31, old material, Robins 50 


Jan. 4, cash Ogden and Stockton 770 18 9 

Feb. 4t Robins 49 12 5 

Aug. ' old material, Robins 25 10 5 

5,712 19 8 

Balance 3,017 6 5 

8,730 6 1 

Balance 3,017 6 5 

1846. Cash Ampfiion 1,500 

1,517 6 5 
Law expenses 156 

1,673 6 ~5 



Adventurous Voyage of the Stockton Across the Atlantic. Subsequent 
History of the First Screw Steamer. Recognition of Ericsson's 
Claims to the Screw. Kobert Fulton's War-steamer. Naval Oppo- 
sition to the Use of Steam. Award of a Gold Medal for the Steam 
Fire-engine. Early Use of Propeller in American Waters. Erics- 
son's Personal Appearance and Habits. Mrs. Ericsson Joins her 

TTNDER date of May 30, 1839, tins entry appears in the 
vJ published " Diary of Philip Hone." 

Among the maritime exploits with which these adventurous times 
abound, the arrival, on Wednesday last, of a little steam schooner, called 
the Robert P. Stockton, from England, was one of the most remarkable. 
She sailed from Gravesend on April 13. She is only ten feet wide and 
seventy feet long, and her burden is thirty tons. She is built entirely 
of wrought sheet-iron, and is intended as a towing vessel on the New 
Jersey Canal. The commander is Captain Crane. She performed her 
voyage in forty-six days, with no serious disaster except the loss of one 
seaman, who was washed off this little cockle-shell by one of the seas 
which were constantly sweeping her decks. Never, I presume, was the 
western ocean crossed in so small a craf fc. There was not room enough 
to lie straight nor to stand erect. This little vessel lies near the Battery, 
and is visited by hundreds of curious persons, anxious to realize the 
possible truth of the nursery story about the " three men of Gotham " 
who " went to sea in a bowl." *' 

Crane was a captain in the American merchant marine and 
a most intrepid sailor, as this experience shows. His crew con- 
sisted of four men and a boy, and he made the passage under 
sail alone. In admiration of his daring the- New York authori- 
ties presented him with the freedom of the city. The little tug 

* Diary of Philip Hone, 1838-1851. Edited by Bayard Tuckerman. YoL 
i,p. 362. 



was set to work on the Delaware & Raritan Canal, and nearly 
thirty years after was still doing duty as the New Jersey. On 
November 17, 1866, Bennet Woodcroft, then Librarian of the 
British Patent Office, wrote to Ericsson expressing a desire to 
purchase the original engines of this vessel, to place them in the 
Patent Office Museum " not only for their historical value, but 
also to put an end to F. P. Smith's false claim to any invention 
in regard to screw boats or their first introduction." Ericsson 
replied : " The Robert F. Stockton (New Jersey) is still in oper- 
ation as a tow-boat after twenty-five years' constant service. 

The Stockton crossing the Atlantic, 

The original engine was some time ago taken out. It will give 
me great pleasure to send it to you free of cost, if not broken 

The Stockton^ or New Jersey r , was at this time in the pos- 
session of the Messrs. Stevens, of Iloboken. Ericsson offered 
to replace the old engine with a new one, but without avail, and 
on August 15, 1873, he wrote : "Nothing could induce tlie 
Messrs. Stevens, who claim to be the originators of screw pro- 
pulsion, to permit tie machinery of the r eal pioneer screw ves- 
sel to be placed in your museum. Accordingly, some time ago, 


the Robert F. Stockton was hauled out of the water and cut up, 
each plate being separated from the others, while the machin- 
ery was broken up and put into the melting-pot. So careful 
were the parties mentioned to prevent the smallest part to re- 
main as a proof that the remarkable vessel once existed, that 
< not a vestige now remains,' says my informant, who has access 
to the premises where the vile act of destruction took place. A 
meaner proceeding cannot well be imagined, but I expected 
nothing else, since it leaked out during the negotiation what 
the old machinery was wanted for." 

This letter was in response to one from Mr. Woodcroft of a 
month earlier, saying : " The benefit you have conferred on the 
world by the screw propeller is beyond computation. If I could 
obtain the original engines, in whatever state they now are, I 
should be proud of them as a trophy, to be placed in the Patent 
Office Museum in London, where they would be side by side 
with Miller's experimental engine that drove a paddle-wheel 
boat in 1788 ; "Watt's steam-engine, by which circular motion 
was first given to a shaft ; Bell's engine that drove the first 
practical paddle-wheel steam-boat in Europe in 1812, on the 
Clyde ; Stephenson's locomotive, the Rocket^ and your locomo- 
tive, the Novelty. If you could possibly point out the way in 
which I could obtain them, I would spare neither expense nor 
trouble." This is what was thought at the British Patent Office 
of Ericsson's claim to the screw propeller, after a generation of 
trial, investigation, and controversy. 

"Not only did Captain Stockton order on his own account 
the two iron boats," says Mr. Sargent, " he at once brought the 
subject before the Government of the United States and caused 
numerous plans and models to be made at his own expense, ex- 
plaining the peculiar fitness of the new invention for ships of 
war. So completely persuaded was he of its great importance 
in this aspect, and so determined that his views should be car- 
ried out, that he boldly assured the inventor that the Govern- 
ment of the United States would test the propeller on a large 
scale ; and so confident was Ericsson that the perseverance and 
energy of Captain Stockton would sooner or later accomplish 
what he promised, that he at once abandoned his professional 
engagements in England and set out for the United States." 


Speaking of the screw propeller, Mr. Sargent says further : 
"The circumstances under which this invention was devised 
and prosecuted, the perseverance with which it w r as followed up 
by Ericsson, through all discouragement and neglect, and its 
ultimate success in its precise original shape prove it to have 
been the result, not of a happy accident, but of patient reflection 
and scientific calculation. It was not hit upon, but was wrought 
out; it was not suggested, but elaborated; demonstrated in 
theory to the inventor's own satisfaction before it was submit- 
ted to the test of successful experiment." * 

Ericsson was at this time superintending engineer of the 
Eastern Counties Kail way, one of the principal lines centring in 
the British metropolis, designed by Mr.Braithwaite and opened 
in 1839. For this road Ericsson built a machine of his own 
contrivance for constructing embankments. He resigned his 
position and started for New York November 1, 1839, in the 
steamer Great Western, the pioneer of the first line of Atlantic 

The Great Western had a stormy passage and did not ar- 
rive in New York until November 23d, so Ericsson had an 
opportunity of realizing the difference between planning ships 
on shore and sailing in them on the sea, for he was dreadfully 
sea-sick. " Before May 26, 1826," he says, in a letter written 
in 1875, "I hailed from Sweden, after that date up to Novem- 
ber 1, 1839, I hailed from England, and since November 23d, 
same year, I have been a steady New Yorker." 

It does not appear to have been Ericsson's original inten- 
tion to become a resident of the United States, for I find among 
Ins letters the following from his friend Ogden, to whose 
friendly suggestions his journey to the New World was in no 
small measure due : 

OAK DALE, Thursday Night. 

Mr DEAR ERICSSON : I have just got through with a lot of letters for 
yon to take with you to the United States, but I have determined to put 
them into your hands myself, and to bid you good-by in person. I am 
going up to town on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning shall go 
directly to Swartwout, wherever he may be if you have not yet 
learned, inquire either of Miller, in Henrietta Street, or of Blood, 12 

* Sargent's Lecture on Improvements in Steam Navigation. 


North Audley Street, but at all events hold yourself ready to dine with 
us on Sunday, somewhere, where you will get much information on the 
subject of your transatlantic tour. 

Remember me kindly to Madam and believe me, 

Yours truly, 


At the time of Ericsson's transfer to the United States 
there were no steam vessels in our navy. In 1813-14: .Robert 
Fulton had built his Demologos or Fulton. This was the first 
war-steamer ever built, and into her Fulton introduced a va- 
riety of devilish contrivances for confounding an enemy ; fur- 
naces for red-hot shot, submarine guns sending one hundred 
pound balls twelve feet below the water-line, and an engine 
for discharging an immense column of water upon decks and 
through portholes. The Fulton was never entirely completed, 
the war with England which had called for her construction 
having ended. She was converted into a receiving ship and 
stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. There she was blown 
up in 1829, whether by accident or design has never been set- 
tled, and a large number of persons on board of her were 

In 1837-38 a second Fulton was built. Though this vessel 
attained a high speed, she was entirely unsuited to naval, pur- 
poses, and in 1839 was lying a useless hulk at the Brooklyn 
Navy Yard. Stockton was an ardent advocate for the introduc- 
tion of steam into the naval vessels already in service, and his 
conferences with Ericsson had satisfied him' that it was possible 
with a vessel on an entirely new plan to convince the most con- 
servative of the value of steam. By act of March 3, 1839, Con- 
gress" had authorized the construction of three ships of war, and 
it was Stockton's confident assurance that he would be allowed 
to build one of these that prompted Ericsson to prepare the 
plans of a steam frigate in England and bring them with him 
to this country. Every detail for such a vessel had been most 
thoroughly considered, and the plans included not only the 
model of the vessel but her engines and motive power, her 
guns, and the method of mounting, aiming, and firing them. 

Unexpected difficulties attended the carrying out of the proj- 
ect Stockton and Ericsson h^l conceived between them. A 


powerful service sentiment resisted innovation of every sort, as 
it always has done and always will do. " Do you not know," 
Ericsson once wrote, "that you can never convince a sailor? " 
" The head of the Navy Department," so says Stockton's bi- 
ographer, a is generally a politician more solicitous to obtain 
popularity among the officers than competent to discharge judi- 
ciously the functions of his office. He .listens, therefore, to the 
voice of the superannuated officers, who, with professional dog- 
matism, denounce all novelties, and pronounce all innovations 
dangerous. The application of steam to national ships-of-war 
from the first was resisted by many naval officers, and had to 
encounter the most stubborn prejudices and most determined 
opposition. It was confidently asserted by the old captains 
that steam vessels would be worthless except for purposes of 
transportation." * 

An officer of the navy, Captain William M. Hunter, sub- 
mitted a plan for a vessel with submerged wheels on the sides 
and Stockton urged the building of a steam frigate after the 
designs of Ericsson. It was finally decided to build one vessel 
on each plan. There was delay in carrying out the purpose of 
the Navy Department, and work was not begun until 1842, 
upon the vessel proposed by Stockton and called the Princeton, 
after the city of his residence. 

Meanwhile Ericsson found abundant occupation. Just 
after his arrival here the Mechanics' Institute of New York, 
taking alarm, at the destructive fires devastating the city, in 
January, 1840, offered its great gold medal as a prize for the 
best plan of a steam fire-engine. "With his previous experience, 
Ericsson had no difficulty in securing this prize. In this en- 
gine he adhered to his early system of using a blowing appa- 
ratus to generate steam, in deference to the prevailing opinion 
that the sparks from an engine using the " steam-blast " would 
endanger the wooden houses so common at that day. The 
engine used in 1829, at the Argyle fire, had six horse-power 
and threw one hundred and fifty gallons of water in a minute 
to the height of one hundred feet. It took twenty minutes. to 
get tip steam. The new engine got up steam in ten minutes, 
had the power of one hundred and eight men, and threw three 
* Life of Commodore Robert F. Stockton. New York, 1856. 



thousand gallons of water in a minute through a IJ-inchpipeto 
a height of one hundred and five feet. It weighed two and 
one-half tons. 

The main purpose of Ericsson's visit to the United States 
was to introduce his propeller to American waters. In a letter 
to his friend Sargent, dated January 24, 1845, he says : " I 
visited this country at Mr. Ogden's most earnest solicitation, to 
introduce my propeller on the canals and inland waters of the 
Union. I had at the same time strong reasons for supposing 
that Stockton would be able to start the c big frigate' for which 

Steam Fire Engine awarded a Prize by the, American Institute, 1840. 

I had prepared such laborious plans in England. On arriving 
here I soon found that Captain S. had not that power with 
the administration he had told me in England where he once 
assured me lie could get my propeller introduced in the Am- 
erican navy at once. He, on one occasion, expressed himself 
thus : ; I will let you have,' or c you shall have ' the ''finest fri* 
gate in the American navy ' meaning to try the propeller on. 

" Stockton's inability to do anything with the navy induced 
me at once to turn round and see what could be effected with 
private individuals. The result was the fitting out of the Clar* 


wn, the Vandalia, on the lakes, the steamboats Propeller, Erics- 
son, and a barge for the Canadian Government, all running on 
the St. Lawrence. Various other vessels were in contemplation, 
when at last Captain Stockton ordered his four iron boats, for 
which he never paid me one cent. The steamboat Ericsson, on 
the Delaware, and numerous other propeller vessels were succes- 
sively commenced, all without the least assistance from Captain 
Stockton, who all the while threw cold water on my endeavors." 

In a letter to Captain Stockton, dated " Astor House, New 
York, August 31, 1840," Ericsson called attention to the fact that 
his " journey to this country " was undertaken " for the sole pur- 
pose of carrying out patents in which yourself and Mr. Ogden 
are equally interested with myself." He stated that Mr. Ogden 
had agreed to loan him 150, and asked for a similar loan from 
Stockton, adding, "Tour refusal would be unwelcome news, I 
can assure yon." His gun-lock was at that time being tried at 
Sandy Hook, and he had great hopes of profit from that. He 
says, in concluding his letter, "Mr. Ogden tells me you are 
about starting an ocean steamer at Philadelphia I will not ex- 
press my apprehensions that the news are too good to be true." 

The canal barges for Stockton were vessels of six feet 
draught and two hundred tons burden, 100 x 22^- feet. They 
were built early in 184:2 and ran from Philadelphia, two of them 
to Albany and two to Hartford. They were ordered through 
Ericsson from a New York builder named Cunningham, and 
were the occasion of some unpleasantness growing out of cir- 
cumstances the significance of which is not now apparent. In a 
letter dated November 1, 1842, Stockton says : " There seems 
to be no end to the misunderstanding between us." In this 
letter he also says : " What I have done for you, the trouble, 
pain, anxiety, suspense, and inconvenience which I have under- 
gone in my desire to serve you not myself, seem to be alto- 
gether overlooked by you, and you seem to accuse me of hav- 
ing made use of your services for my own ends and afterward 
to refuse you what you thought was your just due. I was 
not disposed to submit to this in silence and was desirous to 
know whether you intended to make any charge for any other 
services you have rendered, because I did not wish unexpected- 
ly to be reminded of them," 


This seems to have been simply a phase of the old quarrel 
between client and patron. I hope," said Dr. Johnson, in his 
famous letter to Lord Chesterfield, " it is no very cynical as- 
perity, not to confess obligation where no benefit has been re- 
ceived, or to be unwilling that the public should consider me as 
owing that to a patron which Providence has enabled me to 
do for myself." Stockton's confident assurances had thus far 
resulted in nothing tangible, and whatever assistance he might 
receive, the proud-spirited engineer believed to be due from a 
public servant to one who was himself seeking public ends. 
He felt that he was superior to Stockton in every respect, ex- 
cept the possession of wealth and influence, and he was by no 
means disposed to accept the position, in which it was sought 
to place him, of an " ingenious mechanic " developing the ideas 
of a progressive naval officer. 

The increase of intelligence has in some measure relieved 
the men- of brains from their position of slavish dependence 
upon men of position, but their emancipation is not yet complete, 
as Ericsson discovered. He struggled through life to assert the 
dignity of his profession, and we shall see how constantly his 
uncompromising spirit kept him at war with circumstances. 
From his cradle almost he had had the command of men ; the 
sense of strength which superiority in any department gives 
was active within him, and in his field he was inclined to be as 
autocratic as one who controls the resources of an empire. 
. Among those who witnessed the early trials of Ericsson's 
propeller in England were two American ship captains and ship 
owners, Messrs. Russell E. & Stephen E. Glover, of New York. 
The Glovers were enterprising men and they determined, with- 
out waiting for others, to apply the screw to the Clarion, a ves- 
sel they were building to run between New York and Havana. 
This was the fourth vessel to receive the Ericsson propeller ; the 
Ogden being the first; tha Stockton the second, and the Van- 
dalia, plying between Oswego and Chicago, the third. Four 
vessels were put on the Rideau Canal and St. Lawrence, viz., 
the Baron Toronto, Itoyal Barge, Propeller, and Ericsson ; 
seven sailed from Philadelphia to various ports ; one was on 
the Erie Canal ; four on Lake Erie ; two, besides the Vandalia y 
ran. from Oswego to Chicago ; two from New York to Canada; 


one was put on the James River Canal and one on the Delaware. 
This makes in all twenty-four merchant vessels receiving the 
Ericsson propeller before the Princeton went into commission, 
February, 1S49. There was besides the Kevenue Cutter Jef- 
ferson on Lake Erie. 

Great interest in this new motor was awakened by the dis- 
cussions in the New York papers at the time the Clarion was 
built in 1840, and its obvious adaptability to the necessities of 
American shipping was soon made apparent. From a list pre- 
pared in 1843 by Lieutenant Johnson, a Swedish naval officer, 
acting under the instructions of his Government, it appears 
that the propellers at that time numbered in all forty-two; one 
built in 1839, six in 1841, nine in 1842, and twenty-six in 1843. 
The history of the introduction of steam navigation on United 
States waters shows that several years before screw propulsion 
had assumed importance in England the carrying trade of our 
great lakes was to a large extent conducted by screw vessels. 
On April 6, 1841, Captain James Van Cleave and Mr. Ben- 
jamin Isaacs purchased the right to use the Ericsson propeller 
on the lakes. The Vandalia was their first vessel, and on De- 
cember 1, 1841, her owners reported that she had proved a 
great success. " She has astonished us all," they said. 

At a still earlier date the canal barge Ericsson, built from 
the plans of her namesake,' made her first voyage from Rock- 
ville to Montreal, forty miles in sixteen hours no great speed, 
the significance of the voyage being in the ability shown to 
master the rapids. Another propeller Ericsson, built in 1842, 
to run on the Delaware & Chesapeake Canal, between Phila- 
delphia and Baltimore, carrying passengers and freight, proved 
so great a success commercially that two other vessels, the Cum- 
lerland and the Baltimore, were ordered and the " Ericsson 
Line " established, greatly to the discomfort of the Philadelphia, 
Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad, with whose business it most 
seriously interfered. The railroad was compelled to reduce its 
fares one-half. It finally persuaded the State of Delaware to 
impose a prohibitory toll on passengers going on the propeller 
line, but this did not restore its freight business. The Erics- 
son line of steamers was incorporated by the State of Mary- 
land in 1844, and it is still in operation with five propellers, 



Out of it has grown the New York & Baltimore Transporta- 
tion Company, equipped with eight steamers and plying daily 
between Baltimore & New York. 

When he first came to New York Captain Ericsson took up 
his residence at the Astor house, in those days a famous hos- 

The Vandalia Pioneer Propeller on the Lakes. 

telry, especially affected by New Englanders, Daniel Webster 
making his home there when in the city and the New England 
Society there doing yearly homage to Plymouth Rock. Among 
the New England habitues of the place was Mr. John O. Sar- 
gent, a lawyer of Massachusetts birth, who to his legal learning 
united fine abilities as a writer and much, experience as an ed- 


itor. He had founded the Collegian when a student at Har- 
vard in 1830, had for four years, 1834-37, contributed the po- 
litical articles to the Boston Atlas, and was at this time asso- 
ciated with James Watson Webb in the conduct of the JSTew 
York Courier and Enquirer. The New Englander and the 
Swede had a common fondness for a good glass of sherry, and 
were accustomed to linger over their wine after the " fifteen 
minutes for refreshments" Americans had left the dining- 
room. Thus they fell into conversation, conversation led to ac- 
quaintance, and acquaintance ripened into a friendship lasting 
to the end of Ericsson's life, Mr. Sargent, who was eight years 
his junior, surviving him. 

Immediately after his arrival in New York, Ericsson estab- 
lished business relations with the " Phoenix Foundry," which 
about this time passed under the control of two young men, 
Messrs. Hogg and De Larnater. With the junior partner, Mr. 
Cornelius H. De Lamater, his relations became very intimate, 
and their associations of business and friendship continued 
through life. 

Another of Ericsson's early acquaintances in New York was 
Mr. Samuel Risley, to whom I am indebted for a description 
of his appearance, his characteristics, and his personal habits at 
this time. Mr. Risley says : 

My first acquaintance with Captain Ericsson, or rather my first sight 
of him, I think, occurred in the summer of 1839 .* He had brought with 
him from England a working model of the propeller engine he had de- 
signed for the -war steamer Princeton, and a twelve-inch wrought-iron 
gun. The model engine referred to was erected in the Phoenix Foun- 
dry engine works, West Street, New York, and put in operation there. 
Captain Ericsson would frequently visit the works, bringing with him 
friends and Government naval officers to witness its working. Of these 
I think Mr. Ogden was one, Captain Stockton, of the United States 
Navy, the promoter of the building of the Princeton, another. 

Captain Ericsson all his life was careful of his personal appearance ; 
at the time I refer to he was exceptional in dress, not dandified, but 
more in keeping with the present morning call attire than an ordinary 
day, habit. A close-fitting black frock surtout coat, well open at the 
front, with rolling collar, showing velvet vest and a good display of 

* This must have been in 1840, as Ericsson did not arrive until the last of 
November, 1839. 


sliirt front, a fine gold chain hung round the neck, looped at the first 
button-hole of the vest and attached to a watch carried in the fob of 
the vest. Usually light-colored, well-fitting trousers, light-colored kid 
gloves, and a beaver hat completed the dress. To this add a well-built 
military figure, about five feet ten and one-half inches in height and well 
set up, with broad shoulders and rather large hands and feet ; the head 
well placed and supported by a military stock round the neck. Expres- 
sive features, blue eyes, and brown, curly hair, fair complexion. His 
head was about medium size,* his mouth well cut, upper lip a little 
drawn ; the jaw large and firm-set, conveying an expression of firmness 
and individual character. 

Up to the summer of 1842 I was in constant attendance upon the 
Captain, being a sort of factotum to him in preparing his models. At 
that time he boarded at the Astor House where I first met his wife. He 
was very reserved about his models and inventions and seemed to have 
a mortal dread of their being discovered. I remember once, at a later 
period than I am now referring to, we shook hands and I pledged my- 
self most solemnly not to reveal a discovery of his that at the time he 
considered of vital importance to the caloric engine, but which on trial 
was disappointing to him. It, however, led up to uses by which he 
profited eventually. 

Ericsson's manner with strangers was courteous and extremely tak- 
ing. He invariably made fiiends of high and low alike. "With those in 
immediate contact in carrying out his work he was very popular. He 
had few intimates of his own social level. Mr. John Osborne Sargent, 
brother of Epes Sargent, was one of them. "With such I think he would 
be very hearty, open, and frank, and he was a good talker. 

In the fall of 1842 the Captain employed me to superintend the 
building of an iron screw steamer at Kichmond, Ya., for the navigation 
of the James Biver and Kanawha Canal, in that State. Owing to the 
shallow water in the canal, the Governor McDowell, as the vessel was 
christened, was put to other use, although the result of the experiment 
was in the main satisfactory. She was followed by another steamer pro- 
pelled by paddles, but again the difficulty of running the boat through 
about three feet of water was insurmountable. The Captain was at the 
trial of the McDowell and was introduced to the Governor, after whom 
the boat was named. Being present at the interview, I had an oppor- 
tunity of seeing both men at their best, the Governor gracious and affa- 
ble and withal dignified, Ericsson lifting his hat and holding it above 
his head while bowing respectfully, then replacing it and shaking the 
hand held out to him by the Governor. 

The following year I went with the Captain to 95 Franklin Street 
as his assistant, and remained with him tin-til the fall of 1846, when I left 
him to go to China. During the period I was with him he accomplished 

* Twenty -three inches in circumference. He was about five feet seven 
and one-half inches tall. 


an immense amount of work. He would work out designs in pencil and 
I would make fresh drawings from them in detail. He gave up this 
practice, he informed me, after I left him and gave particular attention 
to all details, working out every screw : i finished drawings. He said 
he profited by it in the end. 

Ericsson's habit of life at that time was to breakfast at 8.30 A.M. 
dine at 4 P.M., with a cup of tea and toast at 7 P.M. He usually went to 
the engine works to see how his work was progressing in the forenoon, 
but as a rule he spent about fourteen hours a day at his drawing-board. 

In designing he was marvellously quick, and with his scale and a 
pencil he would sketch almost equal to a finished drawing. He had 
been thoroughly grounded in Euclid and his conceptions of mechanical 
movements were clear and distinct. He had great method and order in 
laying out his work and its continuance after was easy to him more, in 
fact, a pleasure than a labor. His mechanical resources in designing 
were practically unlimited. The engines in the caloric ship Ericsson 
were a remarkable evidence of his superiority in this respect. In some 
respects his -wonderful inventive faculty may have acted as a drawback 
to the successful working out of his plans. Had he, for instance, given 
more time to the improvement of the steam-engine in his earlier days it 
is not improbable that he would have outstripped all competitors in its 

During this time he designed the iron steamer Iron Witch as a pas- 
senger day boat between New York and Albany. In this he introduced 
the compound principle in the engine, using the steam expansively in a 
second cylinder. The boat attained a speed of about seventeen miles an 
hour, as well as I remember, but was not fast enough to outrun the old 
line boats, and she was withdrawn from the route. 

About 1845 I made drawings from a sketch by Captain Ericsson for 
a further improvement in the compound principle in the steam-engine. 
I think a model was also made and a patent applied for. 

I have remarked that Captain Ericsson was, at this period of his life, 
exceptionally handsome in personal appearance, and that he was equally 
attractive in dress and bearing. To me, from my first intercourse with 
him to the last, he was always gentle, kind, and considerate. In habit 
of life he was frugal, but in carrying out his mechanical conceptions, or 
in the elaboration of them, money was not considered. 

I last saw Captain Ericsson on July 1, 1887, at his home, Beach 
Street, New York. Being on my way to England, I 'called to say good- 
by ; we had not met for several years. He was very cordial-, going 
over his daily habits of life, his work, the improvement of the steam- 
engine, the sun motor, and the lunar investigations. He was in good 
health and spirits, and laughingly told me that he was going down by 
gravitation only at the rate of about three-fourths inch in seven years. 
Twice, on taking my leave, he shook hands, and bid God bless me, re- 
peatedly saying good-by. My last letter from him is dated November 

[ Mrs, John Ericsson.] 


9, 1888. Ir j, in reference to his health, he writes : " I very seldom 
quit my drawing-table before 11.00 P.M , and not once in the course of 
the year go to bed before half an hour past midnight. Brain, muscle, 
and eyes, thank God, all hold good." 

Mrs. Ericsson did not accompany her husband to the United 
States, but soon followed him. Crossing the < ,ean in the mid- 
dle of winter, in one of the uncomfortable boats of that time, 
she had a trying passage, arriving in a state of complete ex- 
haustion. She remained with Captain Ericsson for a time at 
the Astor House, and until they transferred their residence to 
No. 95 Franklin Street, where he had his office as well as his 
home. This was a fine house in that day, and stories of John's 
extravagant living went back to Sweden, as would appear from 
a letter received from his mother at this time. Do not, he 
said, in reply, "put any faith in the gossip about our 'lavish- 
ing. 5 There are people who cannot understand that one can 
live in a grand house, wear fine clothes, and yet starve. As to 
my wife, her elegant garment is a black dress which I gave her 
five years ago, and yet she gains everybody's attention." 

Mrs. Ericsson was a woman who would attract attention in 
any dress. She was above the medium height ; in fact, quite as 
tall as her husband, who was five feet seven and one-half inches. 
A trifling masculine in her type, but bearing herself with grace, 
her beauty and dignity of manner made her a noticeable figure 
wherever she went. Her husband was proud of her beauty, 
and she was equally proud of his talents, but his mind was too 
much occupied with his work to leave him opportunity for those 
domestic interchanges which are the recreation of leisure hours. 
His wife was not a woman to be neglected, and, as her hus- 
band expressed it, was " jealous of a steam-engine. 5 ' - It is not 
the habit of imperious beauties to admit even a Frankenstein to 
rivalry, and Mrs. Ericsson soon tired of the isolation in which 
she was left. She did not like America, and as her husband 
was engaged in a desperate struggle with fortune, it was finally 
decided that it was best for her to return to her relations in 
England until Ericsson found the opportunity, that never came, 
to' join her there. He made such allowance for her support as 
his means admitted of from time to time, and they continued 


in correspondence up to the day of her death, without again 

Ericsson appears to have stripped himself for the battle he 
was constantly waging against conservatism, and it left him lit- 
tle leisure for anything else. A tender-hearted and affection- 
ate man in his way, his intellect dominated his affections, and 
he was to an unusual extent independent of them. They were 
with him rather sentiments than motive forces, and he gave 
himself small opportunity for their cultivation. His love for 
his mother was always controlling with him, and while she lived 
he continued in constant correspondence with her, though there 
were times of intense absorption in his work when even she for 
the moment seems to have been forgotten. His check-book 
gives proof, however, of his constant recognition of the claims 
of filial duty, as well as of his obligation as a husband. It 
seems to have been his wish that his wife should share his for- 
tunes in the United States, for a letter "to him from her sister 
shows that on one occasion she refused to leave England after 
he had paid her passage across the ocean. This letter was 
written just after Mrs. Ericsson's death, and in it her sister 
says, that " Amelia's " last words were, C( I have always been a 
trouble to you all. Forgive me." 



Screw Vessel Ordered for the Navy. Captain Stockton calls Ericsson 
to His Aid. His Testimony to Ericsson's Ability. The Direct- 
acting Screw System. Stockton's Injustice to Ericsson. The Guns, 
" Oregon 5 ' and " Peacemaker." Disastrous Explosion of the Stock- 
ton Gun. President Tyler Loses Two of His Cabinet. Universal 
Excitement. Success of the "Princeton." Other Naval Vessels 
Rendered Obsolete. Ericsson's Physical Strength. 

" TTTHILE busily engaged," said Ericsson, in a letter already 
Y V quoted from, " and perfectly independent of Captain 
Stockton, so far as the introduction of the propeller went, I un- 
expectedly received a letter from him. in the fall of 1841, ask- 
ing me to meet him at Princeton, IT. J. There he informed 
me that he had received orders to build a steamer of six hun- 
dred tons for the navy. He at this interview consulted me as 
to the best dimensions for such a vessel. I made a sketch on 
the spot, and after some discussion he agreed to my proportions. 
He then desired me to make out a general plan for the whole 
ship, arrangement of steam machinery, etc. I went to New 
York, and in about a week returned to Princeton, with such 
general plans, and with these Captain Stockton was delighted. 
I also brought an estimate of the cost of the steam machinery, 
made at his particular request. The maximum of the estimate 
was seventy-five thousand dollars. Captain Stockton told me he 
would put it down at one hundred ^lousand dollars, on which I 
remarked that it was too much ; to this he replied, c I want to 
make ample allowance for paying you for the use of patents, 1 or 
words to that effect. Captain Stockton, having made his formal 
arrangements with the Government and fixed on Messrs. Merrick 
& Town* as the builders of the engines, desired Mr. Merrick 

* Concerning the machinery of the Princeton, Mr. J. Vanghan Merrick, 
the son of one of the builders, says in a letter to the author of this biography : 


to go to New York to receive my instructions with regard to 
the engines. Captain Stockton not only desired me to make 
the plans and superintend the manufacture of the engines, but 
he frequently complimented me as the only man in America 
capable of doing it. 

" At a dinner given by Captain Stockton to the Corpora- 
tion of Princeton on the day the Princeton was launched at 
Philadelphia, he told his guests he had been all over the 
world in search of a man that could invent or carry out what 
he thought was necessary to make a complete ship of war; 
he had at last found that man. ' He is, 5 he -said, ' my friend 
here by my side. Captain Ericsson,' and he desired the com- 
pany to drink my health with three times three.' Such were 
his sentiments then concerning the man who, in May, 1844, 
had dwindled into an 'ingenious mechanic,' c a mechanic of 
some skill.' Again, on board the Princeton^ at a public trial 
in New York Bay, Captain Stockton proposed my health to 
hundreds of respectable gentlemen in these words: c Captain 
Ericsson, the most extraordinary mechanical genius of the 
present day.' " 

This was said by Ericsson in a letter written in 1845 to Mr. 
John 0. Sargent in the confidence between client and attorney, 
and the writer further saj's : "I am ready to swear to the con- 
tents if needful." Letters not necessary to produce here, as 
they form part of the official record at Washington, show these 
facts : On May 27, 1841, Captain Stockton wrote to the Secre- 
tary of the Isavy transmitting a model for a steam ship-of-war 

'* The machinery of the Princeton was of a novel type, and I believe has never 
been copied (certainly not in the United States), although its performance was 
good, and its location in the hull was lowan excellent point for war ves- 
sels of light draught The writer, at a later period, when a draughtsman 
in the Southward Foundry, made several sets of drawings of the details of 
these engines for foreign governments (the art of blue printing not having been 
invented 1 ). The originals were the handiwork of the inventor, and were beau- 
tiful specimens of work. It was one of Ericsson's great peculiarities that his 
design sprang from his brain in so perfect a shape that there was little to do 
except to embody them in the drawings. I think that Ericsson's career 
proved that the pencil^ as well as the pen, is mightier than the sword. Napo- 
leon did not effect greater changes in the face of Europe than has Ericsson 
produced in naval warfare, and these latter are lasting, while the former have 
long since passed into other forms." 


and asking that Lieutenants E. E. Thomson and "William Hunt 
be detailed to assist him in preparing the drawings to show 
the character of the vessel proposed. This request was granted 
on June 1, 1841. September 21st, Commodore Charles Stew- 
art, known as " Old Ironsides," from the frigate Constitution 
which he immortalized, was informed that the Secretary of 
the ISTavy had authorized the construction at the Philadelphia 
Navy Yard, commanded by him, of " a steamer of six hundred 
tons on the plan proposed by Captain Stockton 1 ; steam to be 
the main propelling power upon Ericsson's plan." He was fur- 
ther informed that Captain Stockton had been requested " to 
prepare a draft of the plan of the steamer." 

The origin of the plan proposed by Captain Stockton is in- 
dicated in a letter addressed by him to Ericsson more than two 
months previous to this, in July, 1841. In this letter he said : 

In making up the estimate of the cost of the ship, it will be neces- 
sary to consider what must be put down for the use of your patent- 
right. It will be necessary, therefore, for you to write me a letter, 
stating your views on that subject. As a great effort has been made to 
get a ship built for the experiment, I think you had better say to me in 
your letter that your charge will hereafter be (if the experiment shall 

prove successful) , but, as this is the first trial on so large a scale, I 

am at liberty to use the patents, and after the ship is tried Government 
may pay for their use in that ship whatever sum they may deem proper. 

To this Ericsson replied as follows : 

KEW YORK, ASTOB H;OUSB, July 23, 1841. 

SEB : I have duly received your communication on the subject of 
my patent-right for the ship propeller and semi-cylindrical steam-en- 
gine ; in reply to which I beg to propose that in case these inventions 
should be applied to your intended steam-frigate, all considerations re- 
lating to my charge for patent-right be deferred until after the comple- 
tion and trial of the said patent propeller and steam machinery. Should 
their success be such as to induce Government to continue the use of 
the patents for the navy, I submit that I am entitled to some remunera- 
tion ; but, considering the liberality that thus enables me to have the 
utility of the patents tested on a very large scale, and the advantages 
which cannot fail to be derived in consequence, I beg to state that 
whenever the efficiency of the intended machinery of the steam-frigate 


shall have been duly tested, I shall be satisfied with whatever sum you 
may please to recommend, or the Government see fit to pay for the 

I am, sir, your obedient servant, 


In a letter to Sargent, written a few years later, " February 
15, 1845," Ericsson said: " I do not understand why Captain 
Stockton wanted the services of Lieutenants Hunt and Thom- 
son in connection with the plans of the Princeton, excepting 
as a vehicle of communication between him and myself. As 
such, these gentlemen certainly were useful, but in DO other 
manner, as neither of them pretends to the slightest knowl- 
edge of mechanics. The making of a plan for a common 
wheelbarrow requires far more knowledge in mechanics than 
possessed by these officers. Captain Stockton himself, on the 
other hand, never made a plan in his life." 

Stockton's 'whole stock in trade as a naval designer appears 
to have been the model of a vessel prepared by Ericsson when 
they were together in England. "In the summer of 1839," 
Ericsson tells us in one of his letters, " I prepared a model of a 
war screw-steamer of two thousand tons, with a set of detailed 
drawing plans, for Captain Stockton. These plans and this 
model Captain Stockton presented to the United States Navy 
Department in the fall of 1839." This was before Ericsson 
arrived in this country. 

Again Ericsson says: 

I am the father of the direct-acting screw system. On leaving Eng- 
land for this country the whole engineering- world opposed me, and ridi- 
culed the idea of driving engines fast enough to turn the screw directly. 
I, however, adhered to my plan, and built over twenty direct-acting en- 
gines, not one of which ever failed, before a single individual followed my 
system. Smith and the whole Archimedean screw fraternity advocated 
the cog-wheel system, and the Maudsleys, Watts, Eennies, Seawards, 
and Napiers all built cog-wheel engines for the British Government 
with such bad success that the screw system was on the eve of being dis- 
carded from the navy. In the meantime some forty propeller vessels 
had been fitted out in this country under my patent, all with direct- 
acting engines ; and presently the Princeton appeared in the Mediterra- 
nean, and the eyes of the naval authorities of England were opened and 
the direct-acting system insisted on. The host of great engineering 


houses now all entered the field, and all sorts of direct-acting engines 
were planned by men who had no experience in the working of engines 
of quick action. I say, without hesitation, that most of their engines 
are disgraceful to the profession. These boasted engines do not even 
hold out during the trial trips over the measured mile, in the placid 
waters of Stokes Bay. Did you ever hear of the direct-acting engines of 
the Princeton being out of order during her remarkable cruise? It is, 
I believe, on record that this ship was under steam for forty consecutive 
days and nights, at Vera Cruz.* 

Captain Stockton's orders "to superintend the building of 
said steamer [viz., the Princeton"], under the Commandant of 
the Navy Yard in Philadelphia," were dated at Washington, 
September 22, 1841, and addressed to him at Princeton, 1ST. J. 
Immediately upon their receipt, Captain Stockton appears to 
have visited Philadelphia for he wrote from that city, Octo- 
ber 2, to Ericsson in New York : 

I will meet you at the depot at Princeton on Tuesday morning, if 
you can make it convenient to dine with me on that day ; you may re- 
turn to New York in the night train. I have received orders to build a 
ship of six hundred tons ; I have remonstrated against it. [He wanted 
a larger vessel.] In the meantime I wish to converse with you on the 
subject. K. F. S. 

" Tuesday '' was the 5th. As the result of the conference 
on that day, apparently, Stockton wrote from Philadelphia, 
October 8, saying to " Captain Ericsson, Astor House, New 

I wish you would make the drawings of a ship with the dimensions 
we spoke of. I will go to Washington as soon as you can send them to 
me. Put both bow and stern to her, and make her midship section ac- 
cording to the plan we spoke of at my house. 

Next followed a series of calls for one thing and another. 
October 13th Stockton wished "a drawing of the amidship 
section with engine, as well as the others." October 17th he 
called for various details which he was required to send to 
Washington, "cost of hull, equipments, etc., etc., as well as for 
the engines, displacement, metacentre, centre of gravity, centre 

* Letter to John 0. Sargent, dated May 5, 1854. 


of flotation, five midship sections, etc." "You are so much 
better skilled in these matters," he says, very truthfully, "that 
you will have these all ready by the time I get through my 
work, when I propose to take them all to Washington." 

November 21, 1841, the working drawings for the engines 
were called for; April 13, 1843, the "drawings for the wheel 
and gun-carriage." Altogether one hundred and twenty-four 
working drawings were furnished by Ericsson, occupying, with 
the sketches, skeleton plans, and diagrams necessary in their 
construction, two hundred and seven days of the time of a 
man who could do in one day double the work of an ordinary 
draughtsman ; one hundred and thirteen days were devoted to 
actual superintendence at New York and Philadelphia, and in 
travelling to and fro. This was but part of the labor to which 
Ericsson gave two of the best years of his life. It was the 
strictly professional service of an engineer, and could not by 
any honest possibility be included in Ericsson's expression of 
his willingness to leave the question of the payment for his pat- 
ents to the generosity of the Government. 

He was, besides, put to no inconsiderable expense during the 
two years for office expenses, travelling expense, postages (which 
were a serious matter in those days), and the like. The manu- 
facturers of the machinery, guns, gun-carriages, etc., testified 
that they did their work from Ericsson's drawings and under 
his directions. Stockton gave his assurance over and over again 
that if the vessel succeeded there would be no difficulty about 
pay, and a letter from him to Ericsson, dated Philadelphia, Feb- 
ruary 2, 1844, shows that he acknowledged the obligation by a 
partial payment of $1,150. 

It is necessary to be thus specific in order to lay the basis for 
a proper understanding of the action taken by Captain Stockton 
upon the account rendered for these services when this account 
was referred to him by the Departn^^. By this time the man 
whose genius he had extolled in England, and to whom he had 
held out such brilliant anticipations ; the one man lie had 
hunted the world over to find, who could build a complete ship; 
the only man in America capable of making the engines she re- 
quired, etc., had become "a very ingenious mechanic hy the 
name of Ericsson." 


In the letter dated February 2, ISM, here referred . to, 
Stockton said : " Will you send me a bill and receipt for the 
$1,150 which I paid you for services rendered in constructing and 
superintending machinery, etc., for the U. S. ship Princeton. I 
will include it in the Princeton's expenses, and repay myself for 
the advance in that way if I can. 5 ' In a note accompanying 
this letter Ericsson says: "The preceding letter for the first 
time suggested to Captain Ericsson that any difficulty was an- 
ticipated in securing him an adequate compensation for his ser- 
vices in the construction of the Princeton." "When Ericsson's 
account was referred by the Department to Stockton he sent in 
reply a letter which extinguished Ericsson's hope of obtaining 
pay for his services out of the appropriation for the Princeton^ 
to which it was properly chargeable. The events immediately 
succeeding the completion of the vessel explain this change of 
attitude toward the man Stockton had before extolled. 

I have mentioned the fact that Ericsson brought with him 
from England a wrought-iron gun of his own designing. This 
gun was built at the Mersey Iron Works, near Liverpool, and 
was forged of the very best material, as the manufacturers as- 
serted. Still, it had the defect of a forged gun ; strong longi- 
tudinally, it was weak transversely and opened cracks under the 
proof firing in rear of the trunnions, and thus near the butt of 
the gun. To remedy this, Ericsson adopted an expedient now 
in universal use. Hoops three and one-half inches thick, made 
of the best American wr<5ugh1Piron, were shrunk onto the 
breech of the piece up to the trunnion bands. These hoops 
were arranged in two tiers, one above the other, in such a man- 
ner as to break joint, and they were so perfectly matched as to 
appear like a single band. 

That this expedient proved entirely successful is shown by 
the fact that the gun is still intact, and is now (1890), on exhi- 
bition at one of our Navy Yards, after having been fired some 
three hundred times with charges varying from twenty-five to 
thirty-five pounds of powder (enormous in that day) and a two 
hundred and twelve-pound shot. In 184:2, before going aboard 
the Princeton^ this gun was fired from one hundred and twenty 
to one hundred and fifty times, after being banded ; and aimed 
by its designer, the ex-Swedish artillerist, Ericsson, it pierced a 


target of four and one-half inches of wrought iron. This tar- 
get is also still to be seen. 

Thus the discovery that this thickness of armor was no pro- 
tection against artillery fire was made by Ericsson many years 
in advance of others. 

Fired by Ericsson's example, Stockton aspired to bnild a 
gun of his own. He had one forged at Ilamersley Forge and 
sent it to the Phoenix Foundry, New York, to be bored and 
finished under Ericsson's directions. It was of the same calibre 
as the imported gun, viz., twelve inches, but a foot more in diam- 
eter at the breech, and" much heavier. This Stockton gun was 
considered at the time to be a remarkable specimen of work- 
manship, and great confidence was placed in its strength, be- 
cause of the supposed superior quality of American iron ; it 
was believed to be capable of sustaining the explosion of any 
amount of powder that could be put into it, having been thor- 
oughly tested by charges varying from twenty-five to fifty 
pounds. It was the largest mass of iron that had at that time 
been brought under the forging hammer, and had a massive ap- 
pearance by the side of its slender companion on the Prince- 

But this appearance of strength was deceptive. The fibrous 
quality, giving strength to the iron, was in some way destroyed 
in the process of manufacture, and the specific gravity of the 
metal reduced nine per cent, below that of ordinary iron. This 
fact was not discovered until it was too late. Ericsson had a 
natural partiality for liis own gun and advised Stockton to use 
it for the purpose of exhibition instead of the Peacemaker, as 
the second gun was called, but he does not appear to have 
doubted the sufficient strength of the Stockton gun. 

Describing the trial of this gun a newspaper letter, dated 
New York, January IT, 1844, says : 

Instead of being placed on the ground in some remote corner, as is 
usual in proving guns of not one-third of her calibre, such was Stock- 
ton's confidence in this wrought-iron piece that the proving was actually 
performed on board a small vessel of some twenty feet beam and seventy 
feet in length. This appears the more astonishing when we consider 
that the charge was fifty pounds of powder ; and a charge that might well 
be required for the capacious maw of a gun fifteen feet long, with a bore 


of twelve inches, carrying a ball of two hundred and thirteen pounds 
weight, and itself weighing ten tons. 

So much for Captain Stockton's big gun the largest piece of 
wrought-iron in the world, and forged in this city, of American iron ! 

Here, where four short years ago they could not forge an ordinary 
steam-engine shaft ! There was a christening scene on board the Prince- 
ton yesterday, and from a font of champagne this magnificent piece of 
ordnance was appropriately baptized the Peacemaker, * 

In his diary under the date of February 20, 1844, t John 
Quincy Adams says : 

The House of Representatives yesterday adjourned over till to- 
morrow, for the avowed purpose of enabling the members to visit the 
Princeton, a war-steamer and sailing vessel combined, with the steam 
machinery of Ericsson's propeller, all within the hull of the vessel and 
below the water-line. This vessel, the " gimcrack of sundry other inven- 
tions " of Captain Stockton himself, was built under his directions, and 
was commanded by him. She was ordered round here to be exhibited to 
the President and the heads of the Executive Departments, and to the 
members of both Houses of Congress to fire their souls with a patriotic 
ardor for a naval war. On Saturday last, by invitation from Captain 
Stockton, the vessel was visited by the President, the Heads of Depart- 
ments and Senators, and for this day, at eleven o'clock, Captain Stock- 
ton has issued a card of invitation to every member of the House of Repre- 
sentatives, besides a general one in the National Intelligencer this morn- 
ing. I went with Isaac Hull Adams to Greenleaf's Point, and thence 
embarked in the Princeton's barge on board that vessel. 

I was punctual to the hour of eleven and the first of the company 
that came. Captain Stockton received me with great politeness, and 
showed me all the machinery of the ship. Afterward upward of a hun- 
dred members of the house came on board. The two great guns are 
called the Peacemaker and the Orator [Oregon]. A salute was fired from 
the carronades, and the Peacemaker was three times discharged. 

Eight days later, February 28th, we find this entry : t 

Dies irce. I had received an invitation from Captain Bobert F. 
Stockton to another party of pleasure, with the ladies of my family, on 
board the war-steamer Princeton. We declined the invitation. I bad en- 
gaged to dine at six o'clock this evening with Mr. Grinnell and Mr. 
Winthrop, in company with Mr. Pakenham, the new British Minister. 

* Boston Post of January 20, 1844. 

f Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary, from 
1795 to 1848. Edited by Charles Francis Adams. VoL xi. 


. . . While we were at dinner, John Barney burst into the chamber, 
rushed up to General Scott, and told him with groans that the Presi- 
dent wished to see him ; that the great gun on board the Princeton, the 
Peacemaker, had burst and killed the Secretary of State, Upshur ; the 
Secretary of the Navy, T. W. Gilmer ; Captain Beverly Kennon ; Virgil 
Maxey ; a Colonel Gardiner, of New York, and a colored servant of the 
President, and desperately wounded several of the crew. General Scott 
soon left the table, Mr. Webster shortly after, also Senator Bayard. I 
came home before ten in the evening. 

29th. At the House, immediately after the reading of the Journal, a 
message was received from the President, announcing the lamentable 
catastrophe of yesterday, bewailing the loss of his two Secretaries, with 
others, and hoping that Congress will not be discouraged by this acci- 
dent from going on to build more and larger war-steamers than the 

The biographer of Commodore Stockton * says : 

During ,the progress down the Potomac the great guns of the Prince- 
ton had been again and again discharged, until public curiosity appeared 
to be satiated. The company had returned below, and at the festive 
board the voice of hilarity resounded through the proud ship. Some 
of the guests had commenced retiring and were renewing their scrutiny 
of the different parts of the ship. Captain Stockton had risen to offer 
a toast complimentary to the Chief Magistrate of the Bepublic. As he 
rose, with his wine-glass filled in his hand, an officer entered and in- 
formed him that some of the company desired one of the great guns 
to be again discharged. Captain Stockton shook his head and saying, 
" No more guns to-night," dismissed the officer. He soon again re- 
turned, while Captain Stockton was speaking on the subject of his toast, 
with a message from the 'Secretary of the Navy, expressive of his desire 
to see one of the big guns fired once more. 

This message Captain Stockton considered equivalent to an order, and 
immediately went on deck to obey it. He placed himself upon the breech 
of the gun, aimed and fired. Feeling a sensible shock, stunned and en- 
veloped in a cloud of smoke, for an instant he could not account for his 
sensations. But in a few seconds, as the smoke cleared, and the groans 
of the wounded and the shrieks of the bystanders who were unhurt re- 
sounded over the decks, the terrible catastrophe which had happened 
was revealed. He was severely hurt, but the strength of his intellectual 
powers, now intensely concentrated, sustained him. Calmly and clearly 
his voice pealed over the elements of confusion and disturbance ; a few 
brief orders, recalling his men to a sense of duty, were given, the dead 
and wounded ascertained, and all proper dispositions respecting both 

* Life and Speeches of Robert F. Stockton. New York, 1856. 


being made, when, as lie turned to leave the sad scene, he fell into the 
arms of his men, exhausted physically and was borne insensible to his 

" There were two hundred ladies on board," Philip Hone 

tells us : 

But, fortunately, they were all below, dining and drinking toasts. 
The noise of mirth and joviality below mingled with the groans of 
the dying on deck. By this circumstance they were saved. Not one 
of the ladies was injured. But oh, the anguish of wives and daughters 
at the sight of the mangled remains of their husbands and fathers. 
Nothing so dreadful has ever happened in this country, except the 
shipwreck of the Rose in Bloom and the conflagration of the Richmond 
theatre. The wife of Governor Gilmer was on board. The story 
of her woe is melancholy and touching in the extreme. Her lamented 
husband entered upon the office of the Secretary of the Navy a few days 
since, and the estimation in which he was held is proved by his nomina- 
tion having been unanimously confirmed without debate by the Senate. 
Mr. Gardner's two daughters were also witnesses of their father's death. 

President Tyler gave a new instance of folly and bad taste in a 
toast that he gave at the entertainment which terminated so tragically 
on board the Princeton. Ifc was : " Oregon, the Peacemaker, and Cap- 
tain Stockton." Oregon is the bone of contention at this time between 
Great Britain and ourselves, to settle which difficulty a new minister 
has just landed on our shores. It is a subject which requires to be 
handled with the greatest delicacy. The Peacemaker is the great gun 
which was to hurl defiance at Great Britain or any other nation which 
might stand between the wind and Colonel Benton's popularity. Cap- 
tain Stockton is the fire-brand which was to ignite the whole ; and in 
the excited state of the public mind on this subject, the President gives 
this mischievous sentiment. The Peacemaker at the same moment 
broke the peace in the manner which has been described, and amidst 
the melancholy reflections arising from this fatal day's excursion will be 
mingled a feeling of contempt for this act of folly.* 

David Gardiner, one of the victims of the disaster, was a 
descendant of the lords of the manor of Gardiner's Island, off 
the east coast of Long Island. His remains were carried to 
the White House, and the event resulted in the marriage of bis 
b3autiful daughter, Julia, to President Tyler. 

The injuries of Captain Stockton were, fortunately, only 

* Diary of Philip Hone, 18384851, edited by Bayard Tuckerman, vol. IL, 
p 207. 


slight. He soon recovered and demanded a Court of Inquiry tc 
investigate the question of his responsibility for this sad acci- 
dent, turning his rejoicing into mourning. This court exon- 
erated Stockton from all blame. In their report they referred 
to the consultations held by him "with three gentlemen pos- 
sessing from their scientific acquirements and practical experi- 
ence on such subjects, very superior qualifications in questions 
of this character ; and whose opinions were entitled to high re- 
spect, Mr. William Young, of the West .Point and other foun- 
dries, Captain Ericsson, and Francis B. Ogden, Esq." 

During his triumphant exhibition of his pet vessel, Stockton 
had apparently forgotten Ericsson, and an examination of the 
contemporary accounts of her performances shows how little 
was said of him in connection with this triumph of naval con- 
struction. This neglect was so marked that a writer in the 
Brother Jonathan, a New York newspaper of March 2, 1844, 
was tempted to say : 

We apprehend that it will be necessary for his sober friends to 
provide the gallant admiral of the great Tyler squadron with a strait 
jacket. What with revolutionizing New Jersey by his eloquence, and the 
art of naval warfare by his inventions, he is in a fair way of having his 
head turned. If we can believe all we see in the newspapers, he will 
hardly be satisfied till the nation shall give him an opportunity with his 
steamer Princeton, to annihilate a few British squadrons, and burn down 
the city of London. We do not desire in the least to detract from the 
credit to which Captain Stockton is entitled for the construction of the 
Princeton. He deserves praise for having put himself in the hands of 
a thoroughbred engineer, and for having acquiesced in his suggestions 
and followed his advice. 

A remarkable result has been accomplished, manifesting a fertility 
of invention and a skill in construction which indicate the mind and 
the hand of a master in theoretical and practical mechanics. The na- 
tion is well aware to whom our navy has been indebted for this new 
wonder, and we should not be surprised even if Congress should some 
day attain the information which Captain Stockton has withheld in his 
recent report to the Secretary of the Navy. It is not a little surprising 
that in commending to Congress the numerous striking inventions and 
constructions which give his single ship her boasted advantage over en- 
tire navies, he should have omitted to mention even the name of the 
individual who had invented, planned, and superintended the whole of 


The report here referred to was forwarded by Stockton 
February 5, 1844, after the Princeton had received her arma- 
ment on board and was fitting for sea. He dwelt with enthu- 
siasm upon the " great and obvious advantages " she possessed 
" over both sailing ships and steamers propelled in the usual 
way. 5 ' With engines lying " snug in the bottom of the vessel 
out of the reach of an enemy's shot," showing no chimney and 
" making no noise, smoke, or agitation of the water (and, if she 
chooses, no sail) she can surprise an enemy," and " at pleasure 
take her own position and her own distance." 

The Princeton was the only war vessel that then possessed 
these advantages ; she had by far the most formidable guns 
afloat and could " throw a greater weight of metal than most 
frigates, with a certainty heretofore unknown." " By the ap- 
plication of the various arts to the purposes of war on board 
the Princeton" said Stockton, " it is believed that the art of 
gunnery for sea service has, for the first time, been reduced to 
something like mathematical certainty. The distance to which 
these guns can throw their shot at every necessary angle of ele- 
vation, has been ascertained by a series of careful experiments. 
The distance from the ship to any object is readily ascertained 
with an instrument on board, contrived for that purpose, by an 
observation which it requires but an instant to make, and by 
inspection without calculation. By self-acting locks the gun 
can be fired accurately at the necessary elevation no matter 
what the motion of the ship may be. It is confidently believed 
that this small ship will be able to battle with any vessel, how- 
ever large, if she is not invincible against any foe. The im- 
provements in the art of war, adopted on board the Princeton, 
may be productive of more important results than anything 
that has occurred since the invention of gunpowder. The nir- 
merical force of the navies, so long boasted, may be set at 
nought. The ocean may again become neutral ground ; and the 
rights of the smallest, as well as the greatest nation, may once 
more be respected." 

All of this was true, and it was further true that to the ge- 
nius of John Ericsson were due these changes which inevitably 
revolutionized naval methods and speedily compelled the re- 
construction of every great navy. This important fact Cap- 


tain Stockton omitted to mention in his report. The name of 
Ericsson did not appear there, and he left it to be inferred, if 
lie did not directly state, that it was to Stockton himself that 
the country was indebted for this marvel of a naval vessel. In 
a measure this was true. While it is not certain that Ericsson 
might not have otherwise obtained an opportunity to develop 
in practice the ideas he had elaborated a dozen years before, it 
is evident that this opportunity did come to him in 1842-44, 
through Stockton. The two men were necessary to each other, 
and if there had been a sufficiently generous recognition of this 
fact on both sides, even the disaster attending the Peacemaker 
might not have prevented them from together accomplishing 
great results for our navy. 

The history of gun construction shows how much tentative 
effort is required to develop even a sound theory in ordnance, 
and in the half century and more that has passed since Erics- 
son drew the plan of his twelve-inch gun nothing has occurred 
to show that he was mistaken in contending, as he did to the 
last, that he was on the right track with his forged and hooped 
gun. On the contrary, the development of heavy ordnance 
thus far has been precisely in his direction. The two men 
upon whom we principally depended throughout our Civil War 
for heavy guns, Major T. J. Rodman and. Captain Robert C. 
Parrott, both testified that their inventions dated from studies 
prompted by the bursting of the Peacemaker* 

" I do not pretend," said Parrott, " to be the inventor of 
the idea of putting a band on the gun, because that thing has 
been tried before, but I believe my gun is the first banded gun 
that was ever actually introduced into the service of any coun- 
try as part of its armament." This is perhaps true in the sense 
in which the word "introduced" is here used, for the ill fate 
of the Peacemaker prompted the transfer of the Oregon to a 
Navy Yard, where it has since remained. But the idea was 
there, and had our ordnance officers .kept their heads, and 
availed themselves of the talent and experience Ericsson was 
.ready to place at their disposal, they might have led the world 
in ordnance from that time on. As to his own forged and 

* Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. Second Ses 
sibn, 38th Congress, vol.-ii., pp. 99, 136. 


hooped gun lie always contended that none of his works fur- 
nished better evidence of his thorough knowledge of dynamics 
and his practical experience of the strength of materials. 
Twenty one years ago he declared that nothing more reliable 
had, up to that time, been produced, and this declaration 
may be repeated now. Stockton's imitation was not Ericsson's 

" c The United States Government having been the first to 
introduce heavy wrought-iron ordnance, why does it not con- 
tinue to build guns of that material ? ' European artillerists 
repeatedly put this question. Probably the answer will be 
found in the fact that, although having in the meantime suc- 
cessfully constructed wrought - iron ordnance of considerable 
size, the first essay at building heavy guns for naval purposes 
proved most disastrous." * 

As to the gun-carriage and the " friction gear," by which the 
recoil of the gun was controlled, nothing more reliable was 
contrived until Ericsson undertook the handling of the enor- 
mous monitor ordnance. Of the Oregon its author says : " Ex- 
perienced commodores at the time protested loudly against the 
proposition to c mount the monster gun ' on board a vessel so 
lightly built as the Princeton, insisting that/ among other dif- 
ficulties, the breeching would tear her upper works to pieces. 
It was urged by the opponents of my new system that the 
handling of such guns at sea would prove impossible, the con- 
structing carriages of sufficient strength being pointed out as 
impracticable; while the imprudence on the part of the Kavy 
Department of intrusting such matters to mere engineering 
skill was severely criticised. In spite of the remonstrances, 
however, Captain Stockton's influence with the Government 
prevailed. In the meantime the problem of handling the 
twelve-inch gun received due attention. Calculations of the 
dynamic equivalent of the recoil convinced me that a moderate 
resistance, if continuous and uniform, would suffice to bring the 
piece to rest in less space than that required by breeching. 
Friction, being the simplest means of obtaining a continuous re- 
sistance, was accordingly resorted to." * 

* Contributions to the Centennial Exhibition. By J. Ericsson. 1876. 


The instrument for measuring distances, spoken of in Stock- 
ton's report, Ericsson had just invented, and in 1851 it was 
awarded a prize at the London Exhibition. It worked auto- 
matically, dispensing with calculations and indicating the range 
by the movement of a hand upon a dial. The self-acting gun- 
lock was invented by him as early as 1828, and shown to 
the head of the British Ordnance Department, Sir Henry 
Vane. It was proposed to appoint a board of officers to test 
Ericsson's gun-lock in actual practice. As this would disclose 
the secret of the invention, and the British Government re- 
fused to enter into an agreement to pay for it if the trial was 
successful, the instrument was locked up in a safe until 1839. 
Then it was shown to Captain Stockton, who was quick to per- 
ceive its value, though most unwilling to accord to the inventor 
proper credit for it. 

In the semi-cylinder engine of the Princeton Ericsson 
took especial pride. Of it, Chas. B. Stuart, Engineer-in-Chief 
of the United States K~avy, said, in his work on " The Naval 
and Mail Steamers of the United States," published in 1853. 

The semi-cylinder engine of the Princeton is unquestionably the most 
remarkable modification of the steam-engine that has ever been carried 
into successful practice. A vibrating piston of a rectangular form mov- 
ing in a semi-cylinder is an old mechanical device. Mr. Watt, in his 
celebrated patent, embraced this plan of transmitting the motive force 
of steam to machinery. Since his time, several engineers have at- 
tempted to build engines on this plan, but without success. In com- 
mon with Mr. Watt, they have adopted the single semi-cylinder with 
packing against the piston-shaft. Ericsson's plan differs materially from 
these various attempts, he having introduced double or compound semi- 
cylinders of different diameters with double pistons placed in opposite 
directions on the piston-shaft, both being acted upon by the steam at 
the same time, their differential force being the effective motive power 
of the engine. The combination of two such double semi-cylinders, 
arranged so as to transmit their power in directions nearly rectangular 
to a crank-pin common to both, also contributes to the complete suc- 
cess of this singular engine. 

The device of the blower, worked by a separate small steam- 
engine, first introduced, as we have seen, in 1831, in the steam- 
packet Corsair, enabled Ericsson to substitute for the ordinary 
fixed smoke-stack, offering in action a target for shot, a teles- 


copic chimney. This could be used when natural draught was 
desired, and lowered when the blowers were at work. His en- 
gine as a whole was regarded by experts as one of the most re- 
markable features in the vessel, weighing, as it did, less than 
one-half as much as British marine engines of equal power, 
and occupying but one-eighth the space. The moving parts 
were so light that the quantity of matter to be kept in motion 
was hardly one-sixth as great. The compactness of Erics- 
son's engine as compared with the engines of British naval 
vessels at that time, is shown by the two illustrations given 
on the next page. 

A semi-cylinder engine had been applied to the Stockton in 
1838, and the model of the engine for the Princeton was 
brought by Ericsson with him from England. The link mo- 
tion applied to it was that introduced by him in 1830 into his 
locomotives King Wittiam and Queen Adelaide, subsequently 
into the Stockton, and later on into hundreds of screw-propeller 
engines. The engine was first introduced on the Stockton and 
patented in 1839. 

A committee of the American Institute was appointed to 
visit the Princeton and report upon this "important experi- 
ment in steam navigation." They announced that this vessel 
was " in every way worthy of the highest honors of the Institute 
a sublime conception most successfully realized, an effort of 
genius skilfully executed, a grand, unique combination, honor- 
able to the country as creditable to all engaged upon her." 
The chairman of this committee was Commodore George 0. 
De Kay, a gentleman of high reputation and large experience 
in ship construction. The Secretary was Professor James J. 
Mapes, Vice-President of the Institute, and among its members 
was Professor James Ken wick, the physicist.* 

The sensation produced by the Princeton wherever she ap- 
peared is shown by the description given b}^ two eye-witnesses, 
John 0. Sargent and Francis B. Ogden, of a trial of speed be- 
tween the naval vessel and the pioneer steam-packet between 
New York and Liverpool. The occasion was the departure of 

* The other members were J. S. Brake, H. Meigs, Adoniram Chandler, 
Philip Sohnyler, Geo. F. Barnard, Gordon J. Leeds, and Thomas S. Ctim- 

Transverse Section of Princeton and Front View o:t Engines. 

Engines and Paddles of H. M, S. Achilles.* 

* The location of the engines and the propeller of the Princeton, and the 
engines and paddles of the AcMles, with, reference to the water-line at /I, 
shows what a complete revolution Ericsson effected in the matter of protection 
against shot and shell. His early use of coal protection is also shown, "but not 
the relative size of the engines, as the diagrams are not drawn to the same 


the Great Western upon one of her transatlantic voyages, Oc- 
tober 19, 1843. Describing the scene, Mr. Sargent says: 

The Battery and the piers were thronged with an expecting multi- 
tude. At her appointed hour the Great Western came plowing her way 
down the East River, under circumstances which manifested more than 
ordinary effort. She was enveloped in clouds of steam, and of dense 
black smoke ; her paddle-wheels were revolving with unusual velocity, 
leaving a white wake behind her, that seemed to cover half the river 
with foam ; and with her sails all set she was evidently prepared to do 
her best in the anticipated race. As she passed the Battery she was 
greeted with three hearty cheers, and a fair field with no favor was all 
that she seemed to challenge, and the least that all were willing to allow 

She had left Castle Garden about a quarter of a mile behind her, when 
a fine model of a sailing ship, frigate-like, appeared gliding gracefully 
down the North Biver, against the tide, without a breath of smoke or steam 
to obscure her path with no paddle-wheels or smoke-pipe visible pro- 
pelled by a noiseless and unseen agency, without a rag of canvas on her 
lithe and beautiful spars but at a speed which soon convinced the as- 
sembled thousands that she would successfully dispute the palm with 
the gallant vessel, celebrated throughout the world, and everywhere ad- 
mitted to be the queen of the seas. Such is the march of improvement 
in the arts. The newcomer was the United States War Steamer Prince- 
ton. The agent by which she was moved was Ericsson's propeller. She 
soon reached and passed the Great Western, went round her, and passed 
her a second time before they had reached their point of separation. In 
a moment, practical men began to speak lightly of their hitherto favor- 
ite paddle-wheel, and the propeller that they had shrugged their shoul- 
ders at, and amused themselves with for some years of doubtful experi- 
ment, rose into altogether unexpected favor." * 

Of the numerous screw steamers planned by Ericsson, the 
Princeton was the only one built under his superintendence. 
The others were constructed from drawings made in his office. 
He was extremely particular about the quality of both materi- 
als and workmanship, and his thoroughness in inspection is 
shown by a story told of him which also illustrates his enor- 
mous physical strength. 

On one occasion, during the construction of an engine at 
Delamater's, a certain casting appearing to him doubtful as to 
soundness, Ericsson ordered it broken up. And, possibly sus- 

* Sargent's Lecture on Steam Navigation. New York, 1844. 


pecting that blowholes might be plugged, or the suspected piece 
made to do duty in some way, he insisted on having it broken 
on the spot. Some stalwart workmen accordingly attacked it 
with heavy two-handled sledges, but, failing to make an im- 
pression, they desisted at length, saying : " "We will put it un- 
der the drop by and by." His quick temper rose at this, but 
he spoke not a word ; with his right hand he snatched the 
sledge from the nearest man, and in an instant it whirled like 
a meteor before the eyes of the astonished spectators, the pon- 
derous tool driving its head at the first stroke through the 
shell of the dubious casting, making it a hopeless wreck. 
He tossed away the sledge as if it had been a jackstraw, and 
turning on his heel, strode away with the remark : " Now you 
may put it under the drop." * 

So thorough was the work upon the Princeton that after 
serving through the Mexican "War, and doing more duty than 
any other naval vessel, she was sent to Europe without being 
repaired. Her success was the final triumph of the principle of 
screw propulsion. It was most fortunate for Ericsson, in his 
contest with the adverse opinion of authority, that he was able 
to present his new motor in a remarkably perfect condition at 
the start. Tet his proposition to substitute the propeller for 
the paddle-wheel was received with ridicule by all officialdom. 

Government officers at Washington, enjoying a high repu- 
tation for scientific attainment, proved, to the satisfaction of 
themselves and their fellows, that the Princeton never could 
attain a speed of five miles an hour ; she was able to make over 
twelve, and this was relatively equal to eighteen or twenty 
miles now. The most prominent of the Government naval 
constructors assured his Department that a mere glance at the 
propeller intended for the Princeton was sufficient to convince 
the practical eye of the absurdity of the scheme, " the surface 
of the blades was too small for the body to be propelled." The 
President of the United States was warned by Government 
engineers that utter failure would attend the attempt to use 
engines constructed on such erroneous mechanical principles as 
those of this vessel. The learned Franklin Institute con- 
demned the vessel, and the builders of her engines received in- 
* Scientific American, December 14, 1889. 


timations from the members of the Institute that they ought 
not to be parties to this waste of the public money. 

Indeed, public opinion has been so misled by statements 
finding their way into standard publications, encyclopedias and 
the like, that one who undertakes to set forth the plain facts 
concerning Ericsson's inventions must expect even now to be 
condemned as a partisan. His engines, using a half cylinder 
instead of a whole cylinder, have been confounded with the 
one patented by Watt, to which they bear only the most super- 
ficial resemblance. Ericsson understood that it was possible to 
make circular pistons tighter than those of his semi-cylinder 
engines, and lie introduced this modification into engines, made 
otherwise on the plan of his Princeton engines, and put into 
the Daylight and the Penguin. 

Returning to the biography of Captain Stockton, we learn 
that the construction of the Princeton " confuted the ignorance 
and antiquated dogmas of the "Washington Naval Bureau. Iler 
speed and sailing qualities, her admirable model, the impreg- 
nable security of her motive power (being placed below water- 
line), and her powerful armament made her an object of uni- 
versal admiration. Wherever she appeared immense crowds 
gathered to witness her evolutions and inspect her machinery. 
She was kept in continual service from the time she was 
launched until the antipathy of the blundering incapables who 
controlled the Bureau of Construction at Washington directed 
lier to be broken up. On lier visit to the Mediterranean she 
attracted the attention of the curious and of the skilful en- 
gineers of every naval power ; and, while the United States 
neglected to multiply such cheap and efficient auxiliaries of 
naval defence after her model, England and France profited by 
the experiment, and their navies are now [1856], crowded with 
powerful steamers, many of them built on the model and pos- 
sessing all the peculiar characteristics of the Princeton" * 

As soon as he gave his attention to marine engineering, 
which was shortly after his arrival in England in 1826, Erics- 
son saw clearly that three conditions were essential to the in- 
troduction of steam into war vessels : first, the instrument of 
propulsion must be beneath the water ; second, the machinery 
. * Life of Stockton, p. 81. 


must also be placed below the water-line to be protected from 
shot, and finally, the draught of the furnaces must be made 
independent of a smoke-stack liable to be shot away at any 
moment. All of these indispensable conditions were fulfilled 
in the Princeton and he enjoyed the gratification of finding 
his old antagonists of the British Admiralty compelled to fol- 
low his lead. 

When he left England Ericsson entrusted his interests to the 
guardianship of Count Adolph E. Von Eosen. In 1843 Count 
Rosen received an order from the French Government to fit 
a forty-four gun frigate, the Pomone, with a propeller on 
Ericsson's plan, and with engines of two hundred and twenty 
horse-power to be kept below the water-line, as in the Prince- 
ton. In 1844: the English Government gave Count Hosen 
instructions to fit the AmpJiion frigate with a propeller and 
with engines of three hundred horse-power. These were also 
to go below the water-line. 

Aside from the Victory^ fitted out by Ericsson in 1828, 
; these were the first engines in Europe which were kept below 
the water-line. They were also the first direct acting hori- 
zontal engines employed to give motion to the screw. The air- 
pumps, which were also horizontal, were double-acting, and 
were furnished with canvas valves to diminish the shock inci- 
dent to the shutting of large apparatus where so high a speed 
had to be maintained. Both vessels were completely success- 
ful.- The speed engaged < to be given was five knots an hour. 
The speed of almost seven knots, an hour was actually at- 
tained." * 

The designs for the machinery of this first British naval 
steamer carrying a propeller were made in New York by Erics- 
son. He had made scores of plans before he finally decided 
that the application to vessels of war of side propellers was in- 
admissible, because of their exposed position, the difficulty of 
actuating them with the propeller shaft under water, and the 
additional power required because of the breadth of the beam. 

" When the CC 8. S. Princeton, propelled ly Ericsson's 
screw and armed by Ericsson's wrought-iron gun, was launched 
the war between armor and projectiles began. Heretofore the 
* Vide Bourne's Treatise on the Screw Propeller, p. 89. 


means of propulsion by steam had been by machinery entirely 
above the water, and exposed to an enemy's fire : the screw did 
away with this great drawback, removing the working-beam 
and paddle ; compact engines in the hull, giving motion to a 
propeller protected in part by the element in which it acted. 
The centre of gravity was also lowered, and, the paddle-boxes 
being removed, there was less surface to armor, and less target 
to hit. 

"The Princeton was in reality Ericsson's first monitor, giv- 
ing a warning on both sides of the Atlantic of the changes 
that were to ensue. Congress resounded with eulogies of the 
genius which would enable us in the near future to defy the 
navies of Europe. Parliament, perceiving the error the ad- 
miralty had made in driving the Swedish inventor from Eng- 
land, voted large sums of money to build trial propellers and 
built-up guns. The British foundries were ready for the emer- 
gency ; stimulated by the success of their first iron steamers, 
they hastened to increase their plant so as to include the fabri- 
cation of armor plates for iron men-of-war. The age of iron 
had begun." * 

* Development of Armor as Applied to Ships. Bj Lieutenant Jacob W. 
Miller, U.S.N. Proceedings U. S. Naval Institute, No. 10, 1879. 



Ericsson Declines to be Held Responsible for the Princeton Disaster.- 
Anger of Stockton. Payment for the Princeton Befused. Corre- 
spondence with the Navy Department. Application to Congress. 
Testimony of Dionysius Lardner and Professor Mapes. Legisla- 
tive Injustice. The Court of Claims Allows the Princeton Claim. 
Congress still Kef uses to Pay it. Stockton as a Duellist. Ste- 
yens's Bomb-proof. 

WHEjN" the Peacemaker exploded with such fatal results 
Captain Stockton bethought himself of Ericsson. If he 
was not disposed to share the credit of success with him he 
was quite ready to give him his full measure of responsibility 
for disaster. It was on the programme that Ericsson should 
accompany the Princeton when she was ordered from New 
York for exhibition to convince the public officials at "Wash- 
ington of her value. lie proceeded accordingly to the foot 
of Wall Street at the appointed time, expecting to be taken 
aboard there, but the vessel carrying his fortunes, riot less than 
those of Stockton, steamed by without stopping for him,* 

Erom Washington came the echoes of the cannon celebrat- 
ing the triumphs of the ambitious naval captain, of the speeches 
sounding his praises, and of the clinking of the glasses in 
which delighted visitors drank his health. There was no music 
in all this for the man who had spent so many years in devel- 
oping the ideas thus coolly appropriated. He was in no state of 
mind, therefore, to obey with alacrity the summons that came 
for him to appear and assume the responsibility for the one de- 
fective feature in the vessel and its equipment ; so he left his 

* I make this statement upon tlie authority of Mr. Samuel W. Taylor, 
for many years the confidential secretary of Captain Ericsson, from whom he 
obtained this information. 


associate to his own explanations. His agency in the success 
of the Princeton had been, as he believed, most ungenerous- 
ly ignored, and he did not propose that criticism for disaster 
should be diverted from Stockton to himself. Ericsson's rea- 
sons for declining to respond to the summons calling him to 
Washington are given in this letter : 

NEW YORK, March 1, 1844. 

DEAR SIB : Your letter of the 28th did not reach me until 5 o'clock this 
afternoon. The awful calamity which you relate was therefore known 
to me twenty-seven hours before the receipt of your communication, 
but for the joyful intelligence of Captain Stockton's safety I am still in- 
debted to you. Your request for me to come on immediately, whilst yet 
the funeral knell is piercing the air of Washington, you can readily im- 
agine is not very agreeable. 

How differently should I have regarded an invitation from Captain 
Stockton a week ago ! I might then have had it in my power to render 
good service and valuable counsel. Now I can be of no use. I must be per- 
mitted to exercise my own judgment in this matter, and I have to state 
most emphatically that since Captain Stockton is in possession of an ac- 
curate working plan of his exploded gun my presence at Washington 
can be of no use, should an investigation of the causes of the sad acci- 
dent be deemed necessary. 

The circumstances attending the loading, quantity and strength of 
powder, weight, nature, and fit of ball, etc., of course 1 cannot inquire 
into. On the other hand, any detailed information from the forge as 
to the quantity of metal and the mode of proceeding with the forging 
from day to day, and also a similar statement from the Phoenix Foundry, 
showing the quality of the chips or borings in every part of the gun 
I can readily procure whilst remaining here. 

With the sincerest wish that -Captain Stockton may now have suffi- 
ciently recovered to bear with the fatigue of hearing you read this, I am 

Yours truly, 



The haughty naval officer never forgave this defection, as he 
considered it, and in his mind it was ascribed to other motives 
than those of wounded professional pride. u If JEriosson had 

not been a coward," he once said to Sargent, "there would 

have been no trouble about his getting his money for the vessel." 

As it was, Stockton prevented the payment of Ericsson's bill 
from the appropriation for the Princeton, and there was no 


possibility of liis obtaining remuneration for the two years he 
had devoted to the Government work, and for the charges to 
which he had been subjected, except by the tedious and uncer- 
tain process of an appeal to Congress. 

With a bill made out in due form, and amounting altogether 
to $15,080, Ericsson sent this letter : 

CITY OP NEW YORK, March 14, 1844. 

Sm : I have the honor to transmit to you, annexed, the bill for my 
services as engineer in planning and superintending the steam machin- 
ery, armament, etc., of the U. S. steamer Princeton, and for certain in- 
ventions therein specified. 

I beg leave to state that the per diem charge of five pounds sterling 
includes all my office, travelling, and other professional disbursements, 
and barely covers my^expenses for the time during which I have been 
occupied on this important national work. 

Of the value of the inventions which I have introduced in the Prince- 
ton, the results of much previous labor and outlay, it does not become 
me to speak. On this subject I can only refer to the recent official re- 
port of Captain Stockton, and to the report made by the American Insti- 
tute of New York at Captain Stockton's request, a copy of which is here- 
with enclosed. In any point of view, I trust that my professional 
charges will be deemed reasonable by the Department, for it has been 
my intention to make them so. When the sum total of charges is com- 
pared with the magnitude of the work that has been performed, it will 
exhibit a moderate compensation for services of such variety and extent. 
I have the honor to be your most obedient servant, 


The charge was for two hundred and thirty days at five 
pounds a day, and $5,000 for services, specified as follows : 

For services rendered in inventing, designing, and perfecting the 
following improvements connected with the arts 6f naval warfare and 
with steamships of war, and applied to the U. S. steamer Princeton, 
viz. : 

The heating apparatus, by which a great saving of fuel is effected, 
which has never before been attained ; 

The new gun-carriage, by which not only the heaviest piece of ord- 
nance can be handled by a few men, but which so gradually checks the 
recoil that the ship receives no injurious shock ; 

The sliding chimney and mechanism by which that great desidera- 


turn, the absence of a projecting chimney in a ship of war, has "been 
attained; and 

The spirit-level, by which the elevation* of a piece of ordnance may 
be readily ascertained with the utmost precision. . . . 

A reply came at once from the Department stating that the 
account had been received and " referred to Captain Stockton 
for report." Twenty-five days passed and Ericsson again wrote 
saying: " The great length of time which I devoted to this 
work compelled me to incur pecuniary liabilities which render 
it necessary for me to solicit as early an attention to my account 
as may be consistent with the multiplicity of business." 

No reply. Again he wrote, a month later (May 8, 1844:), 
suggesting that it might be necessary for him to apply to Con- 
gress, and asking such information as would enable him " to 
judge of the propriety or necessity of making such an applica- 
tion." This- time an answer came at once, saying that the De- 
partment was waiting for Stockton, and the next day this letter 
was received : 


SIB: A letter has this day been received from Captain Stockton 
which contains the following paragraph in relation to your claims : 

" In regard to Captain Ericsson's bill, which was sent to me at the 
same time, I must say that, with all my desire to serve him, I cannot 
approve of his bill ; it is direct violation of our agreement as far as it is 
to be considered a legal claim upon the Department." 

With such an unfavorable expression of opinion, the Department 
cannot allow your claim. 

I am respectfully yours, 
i- J. Y. MASON. 

Captain J. ERICSSON, New York. 

' Nine days after the date of this letter Stockton sent this 
communication to the Department : 

PEDSTOETON, May 20, 18M. 

iM. SDR: In answer to yo-ur.last communication of the tenth instant, on 
the subject of Captain- Ericsson's account, a copy of which had been pre- 
viously sent to me by the Department, and which I could not approve, 
J l*aye .the? honor further to state : ; 

n 'That it has; given me great pleasure to acknowledge on all proper 
of Captain Ericsson's jnechanfcal^sldll in carrying 


out my well-intended efforts for the benefit of the country and, although 
I am still free to do so, yet my duty to the Government, and not more 
than a proper regard for myself, require me to say, that I was quite sur- 
prised to learn that he had presented any claim or demand whatever, 
against the Department, for services rendered to me in fitting the 
Princeton ; nor was my surprise at all diminished on the perusal of his 
accounts to find that he had been so extravagant in all his demands. 

That the Government may have a proper understanding of the true 
position of Captain Ericsson toward the Government and myself in re- 
gard to any demand he has made or may see fit to make for services 
before alluded to, however eminent and laborious they may turn out to 
be, it seems to be proper here to state some of the circumstances con- 
nected with my first acquaintance with him and his subsequent visit to 
the United States. 

Previous to my acquaintance with Captain Ericsson I had proposed 
to the President of the United States and the Navy Department to con- 
struct a steamship-of-war, whose machinery should be entirely out of 
the reach of shot. Pursuing my inquiries on this subject a few years 
afterward in England, I was informed by Mr. Francis B. Ogden, our 
Consul at Liverpool, that a very ingenious mechanic by the name of 
Ericsson had been devoting much time and attention to the matter of 
submerged wheels. He afterward introduced him to me ; subsequently 
I had constructed in England, under his immediate superintendence, 
an iron boat with submerged wheels, and which boat was afterward sent 
to the United States. I also had constructed under his direction an 
engine similar to the one now on board the Princeton, which was also 
sent to the United States. 

Having obtained these two models, I took my leave of Captain Erics- 
son, not knowing that I should ever again see him, and not supposing 
that his personal services would be ever required or desired by me. I 
had the fullest confidence that all that I wished could be done quite as 
well by the mechanics in the United States as by Captain Ericsson. 
I had no idea that Captain Ericsson intended to come to the United 
States until I received a letter from him announcing his arrival in New 
York. I have invariably given him to understand in the most distinct 
manner, whenever the subject was alluded to, that I have no authority 
from the Government to employ him, and that if he received anything, 
that it must be altogether gratuitous on the part of the Government, that 
considering the great opportunity he, as an inventor, would have to in- 
troduce his patents to the world by the aid of the Government, I did not 
think it proper for him to a charge for their application to the 
Princeton, in all of which he has concurred as far as I know, up to the 
time of his presentment of his extraordinary bill. 

It appears, then, in the first place, that Captain Ericsson came to the 
United States without my invitation or approbation, and allow me fur- 
ther to add, much to my surprise and annoyance. Having thus thrust 


himself upon me, and believing him at that time to be a mechanic of 
some skill, I did not employ him, but I permitted him, as a particular act 
of favor and kindness, to superintend the construction of the machinery 
of the Princeton, on the success of which he had placed so much of his 
future hopes and expectations. Captain Ericsson himself considered, at 
the time he thus volunteered his services, that the opportunity afforded 
him to exhibit to the world the importance of his various patents, 
would be a satisfactory remuneration for all his services in getting them 
up on so magnificent a scale. 

In giving you this brief and general statement of my views on the 
subject of your letter of the 10th inst., I have endeavored to avoid every- 
thing not directly connected with the subject of your inquiry. 
Your obedient and faithful servant, 


To HON. JOHN T. MASON, Secretary of the Navy. 

It thus appears that Captain Stockton, after delaying a re- 
port upon Ericsson's claim for services as long as he could, 
finally took a position concerning It which was in flat contra- 
diction of his own previous action and of oral and written prom- 
ises to Ericsson. The distinction between a claim for patent 
fees and one for professional services is too obvious to suffer 
them to be for a moment confounded. Besides, Stockton was 
held by the strongest obligations tliat can bind an honorable 
man to urge upon the Government Ericsson's title to the re- 
cognition of his patent claims, for these had been made con- 
tingent only upon the success of the Princeton and its complete 
success was not questioned. Even were the facts as stated they 
would not justify Stockton's position, and if the letter does not 
actually misstate facts it does furnish an example of the sup- 
veri, suggestio fal&L 

" To the Honorable the Congress of the United States," 
" John Ericsson, of the City of Kew York, Civil Engineer," ac- 
cordingly addressed a memorial setting forth the facts, as shown 
by a series of twenty-six letters and documents accompanying 
the petition, and saying in this temperate language : " It is 
suggested by Captain Stockton that your memorialist has no 
' legal claim ' upon the Department. By this expression Cap- 
tain Stockton does not intend to deny that the services al- 
leged have been rendered that the work for which yonr me- 
morialist claims compensation has been done by him and well 


dune nor that the United States are in the present enjoy, 
meat of the unpaid results of your memorialist's labor and 
invention. ... A claim founded on such considerations 
arid so verified, your memorialist cannot well distinguish from 
a 'legal claim.'" 

Ericsson then quotes the letters which passed between him 
and Stockton in July, 1S41, with reference to his leaving the 
matter of payment for his patent rights to the Government, and 
continues : " This your memorialist presumes to be the agree- 
ment which Captain Stockton alleges to be directly c violated ' 
by the account which your memorialist has submitted to the 
Department. It is true that your memorialist consented thus 
to leave the amount of his patent fees to what Captain Stock- 
ton should recommend,' or the Government should see fit to 
pav. Six months have elapsed since the ship was tried. Four 
months have elapsed since Captain Stockton reported to your 
honorable body that the Princeton can make greater speed 
than any sea-going steamer or other vessel heretofore built, and 
expressed his belief that she would prove 'invincible' against 
any foe. Meanwhile the Government has not seen fit to pay 
your memorialist anything for his patent rights. Meanwhile 
Captain. Stockton has not been pleased to recommend that any- 
thing should be paid to your memorialist for his patent rights. 
And when your memorialist calls upon the Department not 
for the patent fees in question but for the bare repayment of 
his expenditures and compensation for his time and labor in 
the service of the United States still leaving his patent 
charges to their own voluntary action he is told that the 
c Government cannot allow his claim,' and the presentation of 
his bill, c if it is to be considered a legal claim upon the De- 
partment,' 4 violates an agreement.' 

" This agreement, it is obvious, had reference only to the 
patent rights in question and not to the services of your me- 
morialist as engineer, his expenses in that capacity, nor to his 
compensation for the numerous inventions and improvements 
unconnected with the engine and propeller which were subse- 
quently introduced in the Princeton. Your memorialist never 
contemplated that these services should be gratuitously rendered, 
and it would require certainly a very clear and unequivocal ex* 


pression of such an intent on his part to lead any one to a con- 
clusion so extraordinary. 

" Under these circumstances your memorialist is compelled 
to apply to your honorable body for relief, and would respect- 
fully solicit the attention of your honorable body to the veri- 
fied accounts he has the honor to transmit to them. The ad- 
vances which your memorialist has made on account of the 
United States and the great length of time during which he 
was devoted to this work without compensation have exhausted 
his resources, and the refusal of the Department to entertain 
his claim leaves him no recourse but that of making a direct ap- 
peal to the representatives of the American people. 
"All of which is most respectfully submitted by 
" Your obedient servant, 


The documents accompanying this memorial were the of- 
ficial orders directing Stockton to build the Princeton, a series 
of letters from Stockton calling upon Ericsson for the plans, 
designs, superintendence, travelling, etc., charged for in his 
bill, and affidavits from Professor Dionysius Lardner, Pro- 
fessor James J. Mapes, and Robert Schuyler, setting forth that 
the charge of 6 per day was not only moderate but far less than 
such exceptional professional services might properly command. 
There were also letters and contracts showing that the speci- 
fications called for a a semi-rotary engine on Ericsson's patent 
principle" and for Lis propeller, and that the work upon the 
equipment of the vessel was done from his designs and under 
his superintendence. The sequence and order of these letters, 
together with their text, shows that while Stockton stood be- 
fore the Department as sponsor for the Princeton he was de- 
pendent for every detail of its equipment upon Ericsson's skill 
and experience. Yet in his official report upon the completion 
of the vessel Ericsson's name does not appear, nor is there any 
allusion to him in the message of President Tyler to Congress 
transmitting this report, February 12, 18M. 

" Of this," wrote Mr. Sargent at the time to Senator More- 
head, cc Captain Ericsson does not complain. But not satisfied 
with deriving all the credit. Captain Stockton is altogether in- 


active in procuring Captain Ericsson compensation for his ser- 
vices. Whether or no this arises from a desire to keep Erics- 
son altogether out of view, and then monopolize all the credit 
you can jud<*;e as well as I. Stockton has taken all the glory. 
In his report he even speaks of ' submerged wheels, 5 to avoid 
an allusion to * Ericsson's propeller,' and besides all this 
suffers Ericsson to go without remuneration for his laborious, 
valuable, and unremitted services for two years. Ericsson 
was the author and maker of the whole thing, that is to say 
everything about her in which she differs from others. Bills 
for constructing for the United States the most formidable 
ship of war that floats the seas, and that lias excited the wonder 
and admiration of so many thousands of our citizens, sleep on 
the table of the Secretary unpaid. His letters on the subject 
remain unanswered. Is not this disgraceful to the navy ? " 
The Kaval Committee of the House of Representatives unani- 
mously reported a bill to pay Ericsson $15,080, but it was 
defeated by a narrow majority. In 1848, a similar bill was de- 
feated by an unfavorable report from the Senate Naval Com- 

For eight years nothing further was done in Congress. 
Meantime, the Act of February 24, 1855, established a Court 
of Claims to adjudicate upon questions in dispute between 
the Government and individuals, reserving to Congress the 
right to approve or disapprove the decisions of the Court. 
On March 26, 1S5G, the Senate of the United States ordered 
Ericsson's papers to be referred to the Court of Claims. The 
Court united in a decision granting him. $13,930, and refer- 
ring this award to Congress in the usual form for approval. 
This was the amount of his bill for $15,080 less $1,150 he had 
received, including the thousand dollars referred "to in his cor- 
respondence with Stockton. Ten days after this judgment the 
Senate committee reported a bill providing for the payment of 
this net sum. In the United States Senate on May 14, 1858, 
an earnest speech in support of the claim was made by the 
Hon. Stephen R, Mallory, representative from Florida, whose 
experience as Chairman of the Naval Committee had made him 
familiar with the value of Ericsson's services. " There was no 
experiment in the Princeton" Mr. Mallory said. " The exper- 


iment had been made at great cost by Captain Ericsson. He 
had exhausted every dollar he had on earth in making the ex- 
periment. . . . The Princeton is the foundation of our 
present steam marine. It is the foundation of the steam ma- 
rine of the whole world. . . . The qualities which the 
Princeton had we have translated into other vessels, but we 
have never excelled her. ... If he had volunteered his 
services, I ask, when the country has reaped these great advan- 
tages by them, is it just, is it generous, is it magnanimous in the 
American people to refuse him this paltry compensation ? A 
letter from Stockton, written in 1853, was interpreted by the 
Court of Claims as showing that he merely held that there was 
no legal contract and not that no service was rendered. The 
Court of Claims did not accept Stockton's view of the case and 
finding in his letters, as well as elsewhere, proof that payment 
of some sort for service was expected, granted Ericsson the 
amount asked for/' 

There the matter has rested from that time to this. Con- 
gress neglected to appropriate the money, and the bill for 
Ericsson's relief, like so many other meritorious measures, 
after running the usual course, disappeared in the sandy wastes 
of legislative talk. The decisions of the Court of Claims ad- 
verse to the claimants against the Government were concurred 
in at that time without examination. The decisions in their 
favor were sent to a committee, where, in the language of one 
of its members, you needed "law, equity, evidence, and inspira- 
tion to get anything." 

The justice of his demand being recognized, and the Court 
of Claims having reported in its favor, Ericsson had every 
reason to believe that his money would soon be received. 
Thus he was tempted to give to the collection of his " claim J> 
time which he might have devoted to more profitable pursuits, 
and was kept for years in a constant state of irritation and 
anxiety. The chief theme of his discourse with his friend Sar- 
gent, in a long series of letters, extending over a number of 
years, was the injustice of Congress, and his favorable opinion 
of American methods did not grow apace. At the conclusion 
of a long letter on this subject, lie writes : " I will say no more ; 
the gross injustice in the whole matter makes me nervous, far 


more than if doomed to decapitation in twenty-four hours." 
He was constantly harassed for money at this time, and sub- 
jected to endless embarrassment and humiliation. For this the 
law afforded no possible redress against the Sovereign Con- 
gress. The Xavy Department did finally, in 184:8, allow him 
two thousand dollars for the use of his patented engine but his 
bill for two years' services devoted to the construction of the 
Princeton still stands as an unpaid judgment against the 

If an u ingenious mechanic" had rendered service under 
like circumstances to an architect employed to bnild a house, 
can there be any doubt that he would not only have had a legal 
claim against the owner of the house but a Hen upon the prop- 
erty as well? A claim that is legal as against an individual 
is not under our system enforceable against the Government ; 
that is all. Judge Story, in his " Commentaries on the Consti- 
tution," points out the serious defect of both Federal and State 
constitutions in failing to provide any means of enforcing a 
just claim against the State, such as exists in England under 
what is called a petition of right to the Court of Chancery. 
" Cases of the most cruel hardship and intolerable delay, have," 
said Judge Story, " already occurred, in which meritorious cred- 
itors have been reduced to grievous suffering, and sometimes 
to absolute ruin, by tardiness of a justice which has been 
yielded only after the humble supplication of many years be- 
fore the legislature." 

Such is Ericsson's case, and in this instance the United 
States has availed itself without compensation of the experience 
acquired at great cost by a private individual, and has con- 
tinued to make use, from that day to this, of ideas undoubtedly 
originated and first applied by him, without payment for the 
service rendered. If this does not violate the letter it cer- 
tainly does offend the spirit of the constitutional requirement 
that private property shall not be taken for public use without 
just compensation; for property, as the United States Su- 
preme Court has said, " is a word of large import." 

In 1866 a competent engineering authority declared that no 
screw propeller engine " has since been constructed to go below 
the water-line which surpasses that of the Priticeton in trust- 


worthiness, durability, strength, lightness, and mechanical ex- 
cellence of performance. It was simpler and had fewer parts 
than any propeller engine ever put into a war steamer." Erics- 
son was the pioneer in applying power directly to the shaft 
turning the screw, so as to get rid of the complication of belts 
or gearing, and the engine of the Princeton was the first ex- 
ample of this type. It marked a new departure, and was at 
the time openly and unsparingly ridiculed by all the experts 
who examined it. In spite of them and their wisdom it did 
its work so perfectly and accurately that it wore out one hull, 
and another was built expressly for it. 

Whatever feeling Ericsson may have had toward Captain 
Stockton, it did not survive the occasion. In his Contribu- 
tions to the Centennial Exhibition, 1876, he gives some account 
of his transactions with him (Chapter X2VI.) making no allu- 
sion to the differences between them, and speaking of him as 
" that enterprising and spirited officer." Ericsson's published 
references to Stockton were all dignified and free from passion, 
though in one of his private letters, written in 1S4A when lie was 
smarting under the sense of recent injustice, he does speak of 
" the deep rascality of that letter of Stockton's." In another 
private letter, also written at that time, he said : " Give Stock- 
ton time and he will produce certificates that gun, carriages, 
heaters, engines, and propeller of the JPrinceton are all failures. 
Ten to one he will make me out to be the Government's debtor 
only give him time." Francis B. Ogden, who had a pro- 
prietary interest in the propeller, shared its inventor's opinion 
as to the hostility of Captain Stockton. Writing concerning 
some of Ericsson's difficulties, he said (in a letter dated June 
25, 1849) : 

I enter feelingly into your disgust at the unfair decision of juries and 
judges ; but, my dear friend, yon have a recuperative hundred horse- 
power in your favor in your own inexhaustible resources. Write me 
immediately and more frequently tell me what you are doing where 
is Stockton and what is he about has he influence with the present ad- 
ministration ? If he has I need not ask how he employs it. I have it 
from the best authority that he has sworn to ruin me as well as your- 
self. I should like to have him within ten* paces, wittt all Ms boasted 
chivalry and devtt-may-ccere deeds. What is Robert Stevens doing ? Will 

152 LIFE or joiijsr ERICSSON". 

his shot-proof frigate ever be afloat, or his thirty mile steamers ever as- 
tonish the world ? 

The " ten paces " has reference to Stockton's early reputa- 
tion as a duellist. At one time, when feeling between British 
and American officers ran high, just after the "War of 1812, 
Stockton accepted challenges to light all the captains of the 
British regiment then garrisoning Gibraltar. Several meetings 
took place and Stockton had a most adventurous escape from 
arrest after wounding his adversary in one of them. 

How deeply Ogden was interested in his partner's success is 
shown by these extracts from letters written by him to Erics- 
son from Liverpool. 

February 3, 1842. As soon as any money comes in that you can 
spare do let me for God's sake have a little for old scores, for I do as- 
sure you I am still devilish poor, although Stockton's acceptance has 
kept me afloat for the present, and I hope for better times some day 

February 18, 1842. I am delighted with your satisfaction at the com- 
ing in of the works of the frigate, and with the rapid progress you are 
making ; and I do not allow myself to put in a hypothetical if as to the 
success of the iron boats. [These were the four canal barges ordered by 
Stockton.] I look upon that as settled. Had Stockton come forward 
three years ago, as he ought to have done, his property would have been 
at this day worth twice what it is ; never too late, however. 

Liverpool, April 3, 1842. Count Yon Ivosen has had two interviews 
with the Lords of the Admiralty, and seems to think that they favored 
the idea of giving yonr propeller a trial. I have written to President 
Houston, of Texas, urging him to let me build him an iron ship, fitted 
with Ericsson's propellers and armed with Paixhan guns." 

May 20, 1842. My chief, nay for a time to come my only depend- 
ence is in your success, and as I embarked with you heart and soul, and 
have never for one instant faltered, but have stuck by you in good re- 
port and evil, and as far as it was in my power have assisted you and pro- 
moted your views, I feel quite certain of all your exertions in my favor. 
My head is yet above water, but I tell you in sincerity that I have not 
money to go to market with. I have property here worth four times as 
much as it would now sell for. I have debts (good in time) due from 
the United States to the amount of 815,000, from which I cannot now 
realize a shilling. 

Your arrangement with the Lake people I approve highly of, for in 
the first instance, a peppercorn is of more importance than any sum that 
might be recovered or rather jeopardized by the uncertainty of the law, 


I am rejoiced at the prospect your iron boats will open, and indeed I 
look upon the thing as fairly before the public, sink or swim, accord- 
ing to its own merits. Of the result I have not the least doubt. Such 
is Robert Stevens's standing that it will not be advisable to come out 
against his plan until you are in successful operation then plunge a 
240 -pound shot into his citadel, and don't take it for granted because he 
says so that his " Pa " was the inventor of the propeller. Bring him down 
to particulars and you will find it to have been quite a different thing. 
Should he attempt to introduce it into his iron bomb-proof, make no stir 
about it until the thing is complete, and Congress has acted upon your 
claim. Then you will have ground to go upon. 

June 3, 1842. Since the fate of the Clarion, no sea-steamer, I 
suppose, will be started until the Princeton sets the question at rest, 
which I trust it will do to the satisfaction of all the world except Robert 
Stevens, who of course will be an unbeliever until he can establish his 
claim to it in the name of his ' Pa,' who tried everything and succeeded 
in nothing. The Marquis of "Worcester was a fool to him with his " Cen- 
to " ; Stevens was a Millio. 

These familiar letters show the relations existing between 
the two men to whom we are chiefly indebted for the steam 
propeller to Ericsson because of the engineering ability and 
persevering energy devoted to the solution of a problem so 
long baffling mechanics to Ogclen because of the sound nauti- 
cal judgment and personal influence which contributed to its 
early introduction. The Clarion of the Havana line, alluded 
to here, was the first ocean steamer fitted with the propeller. 
Stevens's " bomb-proof " was the iron-clad vessel begun by 
Robert L. Stevens at Hoboken, in 1843, carried on during his 
lifetime at heavy expense, and continued, after his death by 
General George B. McClellan, Stevens having left a million 
dollars for this purpose in his will. It was never completed, 
and was finally sold for old iron and broken up. Stevens's bat- 
tery as well as the Princeton originated in the Oregon boun- 
dary troubles of President Tyler's administration and the 
"fifty-four forty or fight" sentiment of that day, which de- 
manded that the boundary line between the United States and 
the British possessions should extend to latitude 54 40' IT. 

In 1842, April 14, an act of Congress was passed authoriz- 
ing a contract with Mr. Stevens for an iron-clad steam vessel , 
a joint commission of army and navy officers having decided, af- 


ter experiments at Sandy Hook, that four and a half indies of 
armor were proof against existing ordnance. Similar experi- 
ments in England led to similar conclusions. Before Stevens's 
vessel was begun Ericsson and Stockton had shown that this 
thickness of armor could be easily pierced, and the contract 
with Stevens was changed accordingly.* 

In this and in other ways Ericsson and the Stevens an- 
tagonized, for among the numerous claimants for the screw 
was John Stevens, who experimented with it in 1804. Og- 
den's letters quoted here appear to be the echo of Ericsson's 
own sentiments concerning Stevens. Ericsson's antagonisms 
were, however, directed against acts rather than individuals, 
as even his friends sometimes discovered to their cost. He 
was too large-minded to indulge in antipathies merely personal. 
Confident in his own abilities he asked only for a fair field 
and no favor, and his feelings of hostility never survived their 
occasion, as was shown in still another instance when he re- 
buked with dignity a correspondent who assumed upon his sup- 
posed hostility to his Rainhill antagonist, George Stephenson, to 
speak slightingly of him. It was not his habit to speak ill of 
others and he was always ready to rebuke those who imagined 
that they could turn what they assumed to be his hostilities 
to their personal account. Favors done him were written on 
adamant; injuries were inscribed upon the waters. When he 
had acquired wealth some one sought to annoy him by writing 
from abroad, that a movement was on foot to erect a monu- 
ment to one of the numerous claimants to the invention of the 
screw. Ericsson's response was a check for five hundred dol- 
lars as a contribution to the monument. 

* See American Cyclopedia of Biography, article B. L. Stevens. 



General Introduction of the Screw. Adopted for the British Navy. 
First Use of Twin Screws. Ericsson's Business Methods and Fi- 
nances. Auxiliary Steam Vessels. Their Use During the War with 
Mexico. The Massachusetts General Scott's Flag-ship. The Prince- 
ton Claim Again. Failure of the Iron Witch. Business Associa- 
tions with E. B. Forbes. Ericsson's Work for the Government. 
Competitive Trial of Screw-vessels. Bival Claims to the Invention 
of the Screw. Contests in the Courts. 

ERICSSON'S occupation with the Princeton continued for 
two years, from September, 1841, to September, 1843. 
Daring this period, as already stated, twenty -five vessels trading 
in American waters received the screw, besides the original im- 
ported tug Robert F. Stockton. By the end of 1843 the list of 
screw vessels afloat on this side of the Atlantic had extended 
to forty-two. They are enumerated and described in the report 
of the Swedish Lieutenant Johnson referred to on page 110. 
Speaking of this report, an English authority says : 

The fate of mechanical inventions is much like that of the seed in 
the parable. The invention must fall on a proper soil and be nurtured 
by favorable circumstances of time and place, in order to bloom into 
success. The application of the steam-engine to navigation was of 
greater necessity to the large extent of the rivers and lakes of the Unit- 
ed States than with ourselves ; and Fulton did right to take his marine 
engine back to his own country. For similar reasons the screw pro- 
peller worked its way into use there much quicker than with ourselves. 
It is worthy of notice that Ericsson applied his propeller to upward of 
sixty vessels in America before any other form of propeller was adopted, 
nor is it less worthy of remark that the adoption of his propeller proved 
a great commercial success from the start, many of the original Vessels 
being now, after fifteen years of service, in good working condition.* 

* The London Engineer, May 11, 1866, 


The machinery of these early vessels was built in New 
York, Philadelphia, and Oswego. 

Daring the two years principally devoted to the Princeton 
time was found for other work. Jane 24, 1843, engines upon a 
new principle were experimentally tested in a canal barge called 
the Black Dhimotul^ and the next }~ear a model was deposited 
in the Patent Office, June 8, 1844, and a patent applied for 
June 24th. October 6, 1843, Rufua K. Page, of Tlallowell, Me., 
was given the right for eighteen months to negotiate " on joint 
account" with u any prince, power or sovereignty," except 
France, for applying Ericsson's propeller and engines to ves- 
sels on the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. In 1842 back 
action engines were planned, and in 1843 they were applied to 
the Revenue cutter Leyar^ and afterward to IL M. S. Am- 
plilon, the first- British war vessel fitted with the Ericsson pro- 
peller. They are described as " a species of steeple-engine laid 
upon its side/' The steeple-engine is one familiar to travellers 
on American rivers. The guides to the connecting-rod rise 
vertically along the crank-shaft, arid require for their accom- 
modation the high frame rising above the deck like the steeple 
of a country church. 

la 1S43, too, twin screw engines were applied to the steam- 
ship Marmora, these consisting of two independent beam en- 
gines placed transversely in the ship, the beams operating close 
under the deck. This was the first practical application of the 
twin screw system. Single cylinder screw engines were also ap- 
plied in a peculiar manner to numerous freight vessels on the 
canals and rivers of the United States, to adapt them to the ne- 
cessities of navigation in shallow waters. The piston-rod and 
driving-crank were so connected by cog-wheels as to move in 
opposite directions through equal arcs in equal times. 

Soon after his arrival in 2sew York Ericsson opened an ac- 
count iu the bank of u Manhattan Company," a corporation 
chartered in 17&9 under the pretence of introducing water into 
New York, and owing its existence to a scheme of Aaron Burr's 
for neutralizing the influence in Xew York City of Hamilton 
and the Federalists. With this ancient and substantial institu- 
tion Ericsson continued to bank until his death. In his series 
of check-books are found the only accounts he ever kept, 


for, whatever his accomplishments, book-keeping is not to be 
included among them. Departing from the strictly legitimate 
uses of the check-book, he filled his np with memoranda of 
various sorts most useful for biography, if somewhat disturb- 
ing to the cashier's idea of the fitness of things. Here is to be 
found the only consecutive account that has been preserved of 
Ericsson's transactions from day to day, and from year to year. 
His check-books tell in their way the story of their owner's 
personal peculiarities, and with mute eloquence testify to his 
generosity, his kindness of heart, his strict integrity, and, 
most of all, to his overmastering disposition to spend his money 
upon his ideas rather than upon himself. There was for him 
no resting-place of ease, of Sybaritic enjoyment, or even of per- 
sonal comfort, as most men regard comfort. Always just be- 
yond lay the goal of higher attainment. 

The account in these check-books begins with July, 1844, 
and one or two of the books before 1844: have disappeared. The 
sum to Ericsson's credit at this time was $5,361.16, and the 
deposits during the previous six months had amounted to $21,- 
423.33. For six weeks from July 1 there were no deposits : 
then on August 15, 1844, $3,700 went into the bank, and 
the next day $3,500 more. Meantime cheeks had been drawn 
for these items : 

Payments on account of machinery contracted. $2,897 14: 

For patent expenses on the propeller . 316 93 

Salaries of office assistants 80 00 

Eent for one month 128 00 

Marble "bust from H. Kneeland (on account) . . 70 00 

Tor " Duck (Mrs. Ericsson) 150 00 

For personal expenses 150 00 

Total $3,792 07 

Substantially thus runs the account from month to month. 
It shows that as soon as he was released from his obligations to 
Stockton, Ericsson found abundant and profitable occupation. 
Had his honest bill against the Government received recogni- 
tion, he would have had to his credit nearly twenty thousand 
dollars on July 1, 1844, less than five years after he landed, 
a stranger, in the country; by no means an inconsiderable 


sum for any professional man in those days, and especially 
for one starting life anew in a strange country. During the 
entire year 1844 Ericsson^ receipts were nearly forty thou- 
sand dollars, $39,121.16, and the year following they were 
more than double this, or $84,536.84. In these two years, as 
his records show, lie was carrying out contracts for steam-ma- 
chinery for seven or eight steam vessels. One of these was 
the Revenue cutter Legare^ another the Revenue cutter Jef- 
ferson^ and a third the 188-ton twin screw propeller Midas. 
The Midas belonged to Messrs. J. M. & R. B. Forbes and W. 
C. Hunter, and was the first American steamer to pass the Cape 
of Good Hope, and the first to ply in Chinese waters. She 
sailed from New York [November 4, 1S44, and fell a victim to 
neglect and bad engineering. Her boilers were ruined and 
she was transformed into a sailing vessel. 

The Midas was followed by the auxiliary steam bark 
Edith) 450 tons, belonging to Robert B. Forbes and Thomas 
II. Perkins, Jr., two of the most enterprising of Boston 
merchants and ship owners in the China trade. Mr. Per- 
kins who, during the War of 1812, served on a private armed 
ship, and took part in several naval engagements, was familiar 
with navigation, as was also Mr. Forbes. Both of them were 
men of rare force of character, of far-sighted views, and in- 
dependent judgment. It was with such men that Ericsson 
always succeeded best. It was only the timid worshippers of 
precedent who feared him. The " opium war" of 1842 had 
opened five treaty ports in China to foreigners, and as there 
was an active contest for their trade the Edith was built with 
a fine model and a full rig, to enable her to run between India 
and China in competition with the fast English opium clippers. 

Speaking of this vessel's trial trip, Ericsson wrote : " The 
Edith went four and a half miles in twenty-seven and a half 
minutes, being at the rate of nine and eight-tenths miles per 
hour (statute). My guarantee was, as you will recollect, seven 
statute miles. This result far exceeds anything that has at- 
tended the application of my propeller, and that it should be 
so in this particular case, being the first in which my patent in- 
vention for unshipping the propeller has been applied, is most 
gratify ing." The Edith sailed from New York January 18, 


1S45, and was the first American steamer to visit British India 
and the first square-rigged propeller that went to China under 
the American flag. 

On March 11, 1845, Ericsson acknowledged the receipt of 
1,000, patent fees, from Messrs. Forbes & Perkins for the 
propeller and shipping apparatus of the Edith, and agreed to 
protect them against adverse claims for patent fees. 

In February, 1845, Ericsson wrote to Sargent, saying : "/*$, 
confidence, our Boston friends have about made up their minds 
to build at once a large packet with my auxiliary propeller for 
the Atlantic. I am almost crazy with joy in consequence. It 
is by far the most important move yet." 

The owners of the Edith were so well satisfied with her 
performance that they resolved to follow her with another 
auxiliary screw-steamer, that is, a vessel rigged as a sailer but 
fitted with engines and a propeller to be used as occasion re- 
quired. This was the Massachusetts, T70 tons, old measure- 
ment, belonging to Mr. Forbes and some friends. She had 
the same general arrangement as the Edith for turning up her 
propeller out of the water and was, like her, full-rigged with 
double topsails and masts and spars aloft, so that she could 
either steam or sail. She was intended for the transatlantic 
trade, and left ITew York on her first voyage, September 16, 
1-845, as the pioneer steam packet between the United States 
and England under the American flag. Neither of these two 
vessels was successful commercially, for reasons explained by 
Mr. Forbes in his volume of "Personal Reminiscences." They 
met the fate that usually overtakes the pioneers in any enter- 
prise, and their ill success was in no way connected with Erics- 
son's work, which was done to the entire satisfaction of the 
owners of the vessels. Fortunately, the Mexican "War created 
a demand for transports and these vessels were chartered and 
afterward bought by the United States. The Massachusetts 
carried W infield Scott to the siege of Yera Cruz and was af- 
ter the war employed OTI Lighthouse service. She was re- 
christened FaraUones and ^as finally sold and transformed into 
a sailing ship called the Alaska. The Edith was lost in a fog off 
Santa Barbara Cove while in charge of an officer of the 

* Personal Reminiscences. By Robert B. Forbes, pp. 210-216. 


Ur. Forbes sent to the Xavy Department a most flattering 
account of the Massachusetts and proposed that Ericsson's pro- 
peller and unshipping gear should be applied to a frigate, de- 
claring that it \v:us his " greatest ambition" to build a ship^of 
\var for the navy to be used as a merchant vessel until occasion 
required its service, for war. At this time Ericsson's attorney 
ilr. Sargent wrote from "Washington that the Committee of Con- 
gress was proposing to cut down the Princeton claim to $6,000 
and pay him that. To this lie replied, saying: " So far from 
refusing the $6,000 recommended, I gladly accept it as a god- 
send, since I have for several weeks past made up my mind to 
receive nothing whatever. I am now on the point of conclud- 
ing very favorable contracts with gentlemen in the East, which 
inanother year will make me independent of Government. 
Hence, 0,000 will be of far greater importance to me now than 
three times that amount this time twelve months, and I have 
o;o<>d reason to believe that Stockton has sworn vengeance 
against me and that it would be a very heavy sacrifice indeed 
that ho would not make to purchase my downfall." This letter 
throughout shows how sound a judgment Ericsson had even in 
matters where his Interest might seem to blind him to the facts. 

Early in 1845 (says Mr. Forbes in Ms Reminiscences), I signed a 
contract to build an iron steamer to be called the Iron Witch. My 
associates were J. M. Forbes, J. K. Mills, W. S. Wetmore, John E. 
Thayer, Edward King, M. O. Boberts, and John Ericsson, the eminent 
engineer, who designed her, and expected her to beat all competitors 
on the North Biver. Hogg & Delamater were the builders. She had 
sea -going inclined engines of great power, intended to operate small 
paddle-wheels. She was very nicely built, and Lad superb engines, 
plenty of boiler, fire, and grate surface. All American engineers, who 
bad long pinned their faith on the beam-engine and long stroke, with 
wheels of large diameter, predicted the failure of the Iron Witch. On 
trial, it was found that she could just beat the old Troy, but stood no 
chance with the more modern boats on the route to Albany. She ran for 
a time in charge of Captain Koe, continually losing money ; when it was 
determined to try an experiment suggested by Ericsson ; namely, to re- 
move her side- wheels, and put on geared side-propellers ; with these she 
made no increase of speed, and added much to the vibration. Some five 
or ten thousand dollars were thus wasted, and the material went into the 

The Iron Witch known in my books originally as the AUegania 


proved to be a grand failure. Her machinery being very massive, it was 
concluded to put it into a sea-going steamer. A contract was made with 
Mr. Brown, who built the Falcon, taking the IronWitctis hull in part pay- 
ment. He fitted her with an ordinary beam-engine ; and. for a long 
time, she ran in connection with some railroad on the North River. The 
Falcon was sold to George Law, and, I believe, was the first to run in 
connection with the Chagres and Panama route to California. It will 
readily be conceived that the Iron Witch spec resulted in a heavy loss to 
all concerned. The wise men of Gotham, who predicted her failure, had 
no doubt that her powerful engines would revolve her small wheels up to 
any desired speed ; but they said she would not go fast. Ericsson had 
no doubt of his power to work up to more than thirty turns, and had full 
faith that she would go over twenty miles per hour. The result proved 
that no amount of steam could get the wheels beyond about thirty 
turns ; and with this she went about seventeen statute miles, or just 
enough to beat the old Troy. "With an active competition under the 
control of such men as Daniel Drew, this slow rate was a failure. 

A speed was guaranteed " six miles per hour faster than the 
average run of the boat Empire upon the Hudson Hirer," and 
the gentlemen advancing the money to build the vessel were 
to have one-half the patent right for the Hudson River and one 
half of all profits the Iron Witch and all other boats similarly 
equipped might earn upon that stream. Success would have 
made Ericsson a rich man, but success did not come. Alto- 
gether, this was one of the most trying experiences of his life, 
and failure left him in a position from which nothing but great 
abilities could have extricated him. 

Ericsson's accounts show that a little over ninety thousand 
dollars was expended on the Iron WLtch^ and nearly one-half 
of this amount was furnished by Mr. Forbes and his brother. 
The vessel had double engines and in these the steam was 
worked highly expansively and on a new plan. As both pad- 
dle-wheels and propeller were applied to her, an excellent op- 
portunity offered for a comparison of the two, greatly to the 
advantage of the propeller. In a letter dated April 3, 1846, 
Ericsson wrote : 

The Witch ran yesterday up and down the Hudson eighteen miles each 
way in one hour and fifty-five minutes on 16 pounds of steam in the 
boilers, all we eould carry without foaming. Her speed at that low 
pressure (only one-third of what we intended to carry) is conclusive as 
tp our ultimate success. ... In a few weeks we will show the fast- 


est vessel now in the world, and perhaps, the fastest ever tp be seen pro- 
pelled by steam force. 

Ericsson's idea was, that great speed could be obtained by 
the use of small wheels, and over eighteen miles an hour was 
certainly by no means a contemptible result, but it was not suffi- 
cient to give him and his associates the monopoly of steam navi- 
gation on the Hudson, which he had confidently hoped to secure. 
Fur the invention he filed a caveat August 23, 1845. In it he 
describes himself as an alien, who has declared his intention of 
becoming a citizen of the United States. . The amount lost by 
iTr. Marshall 0. Roberts, of Xew York, in this enterprise was 
sufficient to threaten him with pecuniary embarrassment, but 
his fortunes took a happy turn just then and within the next 
ninety days he was able to console himself with the addition of 
half a million dollars to his possessions. 

The business associations formed at this time between Erics- 
son and Forbes resulted in personal friendship, and this con- 
tinued for nearly half a century, or until the death of Ericsson, 
followed within a few months by that of Mr. Forbes. The 
shipmaster's ill ventures in the steamship line in no way af- 
fected his confidence in the engineer, and he was in the habit 
of consulting him upon all occasions. lie asked his opinion as 
to the rig of ships, as to the introduction of salt water into 
cities, and concerning a great variety of subjects which occu- 
pied the busy brain of this energetic and public-spirited Yankee 
skipper and merchant. In a letter written just after Ericsson's 
death, giving some account of his early acquaintance with him, 
Mr. Forbes said : " This brief sketch of my intimate association 
with Ericsson, covering a long period of time and much cor- 
respondence, never interrupted by an hour of unfriendliness, 
proves that, while a man of positive convictions, he never gave 
me any offence, and proved a firm friend and able correspond- 
ent nearly up to his death." * 

* Letter from E, B. Forbes to the Army and Navy Journal, March, 1889. 
In a letter addressed to Mr. Forbes in 1883, Ericsson said with reference to 
the introduction of salt water into seaboard cities : '* The subject was brought 
to my notice thirty years ago (i.e., 1853). I have ever since taken much in- 
terest in the matter, and strongly advocated the salt-water system. It is only 
a question of time when it will be introduced, as the steam engine demand 
has already increased to such an extent that fresh water cannot be supplied. 


Ericsson in 1S44 planned an iron tow-boat, built by Otis Tufts 
for the Boston underwriters, and named the It. B. For'bes. She 
had great power, applied to twin screws, was the iirst twin screw 
propeller built in JKew England and was generally recognized 
as the most powerful tug-boat in the United States. After a 
service of fifteen years in Massachusetts waters, during which 
she towed the huge ship Great Republic around to JXew York, 
the Forbes was sold to the United States and, in 1S62, towed a 
frigate into action during Du Pont's attack on Port Royal. 
On her way along the coast, soon after, she ran ashore and was 
burnt to prevent her falling into the hands of the enemy. The 
specification for this vessel, dated July 13, 1844, provides for 
water-tight bulkheads. 

Objections to the screw arose at the beginning because of 
the practice of cutting out the stern of vessels to make room 
for it Ericsson accordingly carried the propeller shaft on the 
side of the stern-post, working it abaft the rudder and securing 
the further advantage of deeper immersion. This device was 
first applied to the Edith and Massachusetts with great econ- 
omy of fuel, and in 1S49 was adopted for the U. S. war steamer 
San Jacinto, 1,460 tons, whose beautiful lines gave opportunity 
for a striking exhibition of this new method of applying the 
screw. A precisely similar vessel, the U. S. S. Saranac, was 
fitted with the ordinary side-wheels and the two vessels were 
tried together under similar conditions, the result clearly dem- 
onstrating the superiority of the screw vessel. ls"ow, a naval 
power would as soon think of building a vessel without engines 
as without the screw. To meet the early objection to the 
screw, Ericsson built his ships precisely on the model of sail- 
ing vessels of the first class, with similar lines in the run and 
similar form of stern, the perforation in the hull for the pro- 
peller shaft being the only indication of a steamer. 

In 1840 Mr. Isambard Kingdom Brunei, the younger of the 
two eminent engineers of that name, recommended as the result 
of his investigations into the merits of the screw, that it be 
adopted on board the steamer Gkeat Eastern. Previous to 
this, Captain Richard Clayton, R.N., made six voyages across 

For the steam-"boiler salt water is nearly as good as fresh. Other purposes are 
too numerotis to mention." 


the Atlantic in the pioneer vessel of the first transatlantic 
line, tiie Crreat Western, to note the exact performance of 
her puddles and engines on behalf of Mr. Brunei. The atten- 
tion of the Admiralty was called to Mr. Brunei's conclusions 
concerning the screw, and Sir E. Parry, Controller of Steam 
Machinery, proposed that he should apply the propeller to a 
naval vessel to be built for the purpose of experimenting with it. 

"When his engines were approaching completion, Mr. Bru- 
nei inquired as to the progress of the ship and ascertained that 
the vessel ordered had never been laid clown. As the result of 
his inquiries he was sent for by Sir George Cockburn, the First 
Naval Lord. In his room was a model of the stern of an old- 
fashioned three-decker with the whole lower deck exposed 
through openings designed to make room for the screw. On this 
model was written "Mr. Brunei's mode of applying the screw 
to Her Majesty's ships." Pointing to this Sir George said : 

u Do you mean to suppose that we shall cut up Her Ma- 
jesty's ships after this fashion, sir?" 

Mr. Brunei smiled and disclaimed all responsibility for this 
ridiculous application of the screw. " Why, sir/ 7 said the First 
Lord, " you sent it to the Admiralty/ 5 This was denied, and in- 
vestigation showed that it came from the office of the Surveyor 
of the Navy, the gentleman who had three years before reported 
that a vessel could not be steered with the power applied at 
the stern.* Mr* Brunei's experience shows how useless was 
Ericsson's attempt to overcome the interested or prejudiced 
judgment of Mr. Symonds. It was not until two years later 
that Mr. Brunei got his vessel, the Battler, and so thoroughly de- 
monstrated the advantages of the screw that in 1845, eight years 
after Ericsson's excursion with the Admiralty lords, twenty of 
Her Majesty's vessels were ordered to be fitted with the screw, 

The unique engines of the Massachusetts furnished the 
model for the screw vessels of Sweden, and her horizontal 
double-acting air-pumps were extensively copied in the British 
and American navies. The back-acting engines applied to the 
United States Revenue cutter Legare, so named after an At- 
torney-General of the United States, were copied with slight 
modifications into the British screw-steamer Amphion. In 
* Life of I. K. Brunei, Civil Engineer, p. 285. 



1844 and 1845 Ericsson applied to several vessels vertical en- 
gines for working twin screws independently of each other. 
These were so unpopular at the time with engine-drivers that 
he discontinued their use but they have since come into favor. 
Numerous freight steamers on the canals and lakes were fitted 
with machinery especially adapted to their use. 

Ericsson's plan of coupling the engine directly to the pro- 
peller shaft met with great opposition, but in the end his judg- 
ment prevailed, and the rapid introduction of the propeller is 

Auxiliary Steam-packet-ship Massachusetts. 

no doubt due to his early appreciation of the necessity of get- 
ting rid of the clumsy gearing through which motion had been 
transmitted to paddle-wheels. The change involved a difficulty 
with the valves of the air-pump. After many experiments he 
finally overcame it by using valves of canvas resting on per- 
forated plates. These were first applied to the Massachusetts 
and attracted great attention from engineers. On this vessel, 
also, he first discarded the Loop used to strengthen his original 
propeller, securing the same result by bracing the blades diag- 


By 1849 the screw propeller had been applied to twenty- 
four steamers belonging to the United States Government. 
Four were naval vessels the Princeton / the Water Witch, a 
harbor tug ; the Scourge, a purchased steamer, and the San 
Jacinto, L-iCI tons. Three of these vessels were built by the 
Treasury Department, the Jefferson, Legare, and Spencer, and 
seventeen were merchant vessels purchased for transport ser- 
vice by the Quartermaster-General of the army, General Jesnp, 
during the war with Mexico. Various forms of propellers were, 
tried on these vessels, six having Ericsson's propeller and some 
a flat-bladed propeller invented by Loper, who claimed to have 
improved upon Ericsson. 

During the winter of 1846-47 Ericsson spent much time in 
Washington seeking for Government work to retrieve his fort- 
unes, after the miscarriage of his plans in connection with the 
Iron Witch. lie made a most favorable impression upon the 
Secretary of the Treasury, Robert J. "Walker, and was consulted 
by him with reference to changes required to improve the Rev- 
enue cutters, being also requested to go to Pittsburg to take 
charge of alterations in the Revenue cutter Robert J. Walker. 
The Secretary gave him orders for the introduction of his sys- 
tem for supplying fresh water from the boilers of steamers, and 
altogether Ericsson received so much encouragement that he 
wrote, April 27, 1847: "Appearances now indicate that I 
reached the climax of misfortune in putting propellers into the 
Iron Witch, and that I am henceforth to taste some of the 
sweets of my long and laborious career." 

He was then in the forty-fourth year of his age, and had 
been for over thirty years continuously at work, but the end of 
his probation of disappointment and comparative poverty was 
not yet. Hfe was even then engaged in a struggle that proved 
to be one of the most bitter he was destined to know during a 
long life full of conflict and opposition. 

" The triumphs of genius," says Dr. Dionysius Lardner, " are 
not unattended with alloy. The moment that any invention 
proves to be successful in practice a swarm of vermin are fos- 
tered into being to devour the legitimate profits of the inven- 
tor, and to rob genius of its fair reward. Captain Ericsson, so 
long as his submerged propeller retained the character of a mere 


experiment, was left in undisturbed possession of it; but when 
it forced its way into extensive practical use when it was 
adopted in the United States navy and in the Revenue ser- 
vice when the coast of this country witnessed its application 
in numerous merchant vessels when it was known that in 
Prance and England its adoption was decided upon then the 
discovery was made for the first time that this invention of 
Captain Ericsson's was no invention at all that it had been 
applied since the earliest dates in steam navigation. Old pat- 
entssome of which had been still-born, and others which had 
been for years dead and buried were dug from their graves, and 
their dust brought into courts of law to overturn this invention 
and wrest from Captain Ericsson his justly-earned reward." * 

When in 1838 Ericsson applied for a patent at Washington 
he appears to have had some difficulty at first in obtaining it, 
owing to a supposed interference with a patent granted to one 
Jesse Orig, of Korth Hnntington, Pa., May 23, 1837, or nearly 
a year after Ericsson had procured his patent in England, but 
before his application for it in the United States had been 
filed. lie was informed, however, by the examiner of the Pa- 
tent Office that the similarity was confined to the principle, the 
application being new, and he heard nothing more from Ong. 
The principle of the propeller was then so little understood 
that any revolving wheel seems to have been mistaken for it, 
whether this was intended to turn under or above water, at the 
stem or stern, or even at the side. As late as May 17, 1873; 
Sir E. J. Heed wrote to Ericsson : " The action of the screw 
propeller is a subject which lias not been exhaustively, or in 
my opinion, satisfactorily dealt with by any English writer." 

From Abo, in Finland, Samuel Owen wrote to the London 
Engineer^ December 22, 1871, saying: "John Ericsson took 
the idea from my father's propeller, which was shown to him 
at the time." To this Ericsson, in a letter to John Bourne, re- 
plies with characteristic directness : 

This assertion I liave to state is an nnqnalified untruth, the com- 
munication addressed to the Engineer being the first intimation I have 
that the steam-engine builder Samuel Owen, in Stockholm, at any time 

* Popular Lectures on Science and Art, New York, 1846. 


conducted experiments relating to stern propulsion. With reference to 
the drawing of Mr. Owen's propeller wheel, published in the Engineer, 
it is scarcely necessary to call your attention to the fact that it could 
not have been intended to operate under water, since the blades are at- 
tached to a centre-piece and arms, which, if immersed, would to a great 
extent neutralize the propulsive energy of the wheel. Mr. Owen pos- 
sessed too nmch practical knowledge to support the blades in such a 
manner had he intended his wheel to operate under water. Evidently, 
then, the wheel which Mr. Owen's son mistakes for a swew propeller, was 
simply a transverse stern wheel provided with flat blades placed ob- 
liquely. It will be observed that the drawing published in the Engi- 
neer furnishes no evidence that Mr. Owen had any conception whatever 
of a screw propeller, his flat blades and solid centre-piece and arms 
being incompatible with the principles of a screw. 

The claim to priority giving Ericsson the most trouble in the 
United States was that of J. B. Emerson. This was founded 
upon a patent originally taken out May 23, 1837, for improve- 
ments in the stearn-engine and improvements in propelling. 
Ericsson showed that no draughtsman" could by any possibility 
construct from the specifications filed by Emerson a propeller 
containing the distinctive and patentable features of his own de- 
vice. The Patent Office at "Washington, with its records, was 
burnt in 1836 and inventors were granted the privilege of re- 
filing their papers. Taking advantage of this privilege, Emer- 
son filed in 1S41 drawings, and again in 1846 amended drawings, 
embodying in them features obtained from the plans of Erics- 
son's screw previously recorded. At the time Ericsson obtained 
his patent a thorough examination was made by the Patent Office 
of all previous devices, and the originality of his device estab- 
lished so far as the Patent Office could do so. This examination 
was repeated in 1846 at the request of the ISTavy Department, 
and with the same result "So attempt was made by Emerson 
to introduce his propeller into actual use ; it never went beyond a 
record in the Patent Office. But when he found that Ericsson 
had achieved success, he brought suit for infringement, sought 
to restrain him by injunction, and busied himself with tra- 
velling along the lakes, where the Ericsson propeller was com- 
ing rapidly into service, demanding royalties for its use. He 
also gave public notice through the newspapers that no patent 
fees conld be safely paid to Ericsson, and by a long and vexa- 



tious litigation kept him worried for many years. After the 
issue of this notice nothing further could be collected for the 
patent, and Ericsson's income from this source was at once cut 
off and the expenses of litigation took its place. 

Emerson finally memorialized Congress asking $15,000 as 
compensation for the use of his patented " spiral propellers " 
on Government vessels. His memorial was referred to En- 
gineer-in-chief of the United States Navy, Charles H. Haswell. 
lie reported against Emerson's claims as covering a form of 
propeller-blade employed neither by Captain Ericsson nor Cap- 
tain Loper and " positively impracticable for any useful pur- 
pose." This was the opinion of an expert whose professional 
training enabled him to estimate at their true value vague re- 
semblances that confused courts and bewildered juries. 

As Messrs. Hogg & Delamater were the parties defend- 
ant, they had been subjected to the expenses of litigation, and 
on February 24, 1847, Ericsson executed on their behalf an as- 
signment of all his patent rights in the propeller. This as- 
signment specifies the original patent of 1838, a patent for 
improvements dated November 5, 1840, the patent of Decem- 
ber 31, 184:4, for an "unshipping apparatus," and the patent 
of September 9, 1845, for an elliptical propeller. A circular 
issued by Ericsson contains this announcement : 

The patentee offers to dispose of Ms right at the rate of $3.50 per 
ton register measurement for vessels of 1,600 tons and upward, with an 
increase of ten cents per ton for vessels below that tonnage, thus : 

For vessels of 1,600 tons. . 

" i,aoo 

" ' 1,200 


" 1,000 

" 900 

NBW YORK, March 15, 1849. 

Per ton. 

ons .... 

$3 50 


3 60 


3 70 


3 80 

3 90 


4 10 

* . . 

4 20 


Per ton. 

For vessels of 800 tons ..... $4= 30 



5 00 

J. EBIGSSOH, Patentee, 
95 Franklin Street 


Many persons occupied their day dreams with speculations 
upon the possibility of screw propulsion ; some experimented 
with screws more or less impracticable in form or in the 
method of applying them ; Ericsson alone invented a submerged 
screw, so complete at the outset in its mechanical details that it 
was capable of immediate use. Further, his large experience 
in mechanical construction enabled him to determine the best 
methods of applying his propeller to vessels of various kinds. 
What is absolutely the best form of screw is not even now de- 
termined, nor is the theory of its operation placed beyond dis- 
cussion. As for the screws invented since Ericsson demon- 
strated the advantages of this method of propulsion, their name 
is legion. For a time he received a royalty on his patent, but he 
was forced to maintain his rights against constant aggression. 
And, at the end of a long and expensive contest in the courts, 
it was finally decided that the invention of the screw could not 
be protected in the United States by a patent. 

Nevertheless, the demonstration of the efficiency of the 
screw which converted the world dates back to the building of 
the United States steamer Princeton and its engines, in 1842-44, 
by John Ericsson, or from his plans and under his supervision. 
All who have investigated the subject, as such authorities as 
Scott Russell, Bourne, and "Woodcraft have done, will accept 
the dictum of the " En cyclopaedia Britannica," that " a small 
vessel fitted witli a propeller patented by Ericsson was the first 
brought into practical use." Long after steam had been applied 
to navigation, battle-scarred and experienced old admirals in 
the British service were declaring that a sailing ship would 
always beat a steamship, and that steam could never be de- 
pended upon. The control such uncon vincible gentlemen 
exercise over naval affairs in England has resulted in the 
British Admiralty's always following, instead of leading, in 
the inarch of improvement. Long after the screw had dem- 
onstrated its efficiency, the English dockyards continued to 
turn out the good old-fashioned paddle-wheel steamers, and in 
the end they were obliged to adapt these as best they could to 
the new motor. Ericsson's early antagonist, Sir William Sy- 
raonds, who prevented the Admiralty from considering his in- 
vention when it was offered to them in the beginning, contin- 


ued to resist for twenty-two years longer the idea of adopting 
the screw in war-vessels. 

When in 1850 Ericsson appeared by counsel before tho 
Queen's Privy Council and asked for the extension of his Eng- 
lish patent, it was necessary to prove that his propeller was an 
invention and a meritorious one, and that the time covered by 
the original patent had not been long enough to sufficiently 
remunerate the inventor. The proof on all these points appears 
to have been found sufficient, as the application for renewal was 
granted. Ericsson's counsel was Sir E. Thesi^er, late Attorney- 
General, afterward Lord Chancellor, and finally, as Baron 
Chelmsford, one of the leaders of the Conservative party in the 
House of Lords. Mr. Tliesiger served in his youth as a mid- 
shipman in the navy, and was better fitted than most attorneys 
and judges in those days to understand the distinctive features 
of Ericsson's invention. He showed that the only propeller in 
use before 1836 was the Archimedean screw, and one with arms 
like the vanes of a smoke-jack; he pointed out the advantages 
and indicated the essential differences between these and his 
client's invention, which offered the first " efficient means of 
screw propulsion known to the scientific world." lie described 
the difficulties encountered in endeavoring to secure the recog- 
nition of the screw in England from the Admiralty and others, 
and demonstrated that there had been thus far an actual loss 
on the patent of 3,271 165. 2d. This did not include these 
further items taken into account between these parties in in- 
terest in their private settlement, viz., " Captain Ericsson's 
time, three years, 1,500 ; M. Hobin's time, eight years, 
2,400 ; Count von Kosen's time, ten years, 5,000." 

Mr. Thesiger gave some account of the litigation resulting 
from the rival claims in England to the invention of the screw, 
ending finally in the union of the several interests, and called 
as a witness Mr. Bennet Woodcroft, whose patent for screw 
propulsion, taken out in 1832, had been extended. Mr. Wood- 
croft said in his testimony : " The parties having patents for 
the screw propeller have united ; they are Messrs. Smith, Lowe, 
Ericsson, Blaxland, and myself. After fighting each other for 
many year% we have got tired of it and want to be amica- 


BY THE ATTOBNEY- GENERAL. You were to be a partner in the profits! 

Ausir&)\ Profits! We hare had none. 

Question. Did not Captain Ericsson first introduce a fixed shaft, or 
a shaft running horizontally below the water-line ? 

Answer. Yes, Captain Ericsson did. 

Question. He was the first that introduced the shaft running below 
the line of the water through the stuffing-box outside the stern ? 

Ansicer. Yes. 

Various witnesses were called to establish Ericsson's title 
to the screw, and after listening to this testimony and to the 
arguments, the Council reached their conclusions as thus re- 
corded : 

THE ATTOKNEY-GENEBAJJ. I understand your lordships to grant this 
extension upon the same terms and the same conditions as Mr. 
Smith's ? 


THE ATTOBSEY-GENEBAII. And further, the Crown using it may em- 
ploy engineers to make it ? 


Of this judgment the London Mechanics* Magazine said at 
this time : 

The Attorney-General demanded that a condition should be attached 
to the prolongation, to the effect that the Government should hare the 
use of the patent and with it of all the other patents for the screw pro- 
peller gratuitously. The argument relied on to extort this concession 
appears to be worthy of the narrow-minded policy, which has almost in- 
variably characterized the treatment of inventors by the authorities of 
this country. As our readers well know, the proprietors of the various 
screw patents have been at law with each other for some years they re- 
ceiving the shells while the lawyers swallowed the oysters ; and when 
they finally make peace and have a prospect of getting a few of the 
oysters for themselves, they are coolly told by the Attorney-General 
'* You are going to make some money now, so you can bear to be fleeced 
a little." This is really the truth of the matter. If people want to use 
the screw propeller in their national capacity, why should they not pay 
for it the same as they would have to do in their individual capacity ? 

The Admiralty subsequently made an award of 20,000 for 
the use of the screw. This sum was divided among the five 
in ventors whose names are given above by Mr. Woodcrof t. The 


proportion coming to Ericsson was by him made over to Mrs. 
Ericsson who was living in England at the time of the award. 
To his associate. Count Yon Kosen, he had previously (July 15, 
1845) assigned his patent rights " within England, Wales, and 
the town o Berwick on Tweed and all his Majesty's colonies 
and plantations abroad." This was necessary to enable him 
to carry on litigation in England. "Berwick on Tweed," 
then a free town, independent of both England and Scotland, 
now constitutes a county by itself. 

Count Yon Kosen took charge of the introduction of Erics- 
son's propeller in France. At the end of ten years of constant 
effort, he reported .that it had established its superiority with 
the public and the government, " but," he adds, " I have ex- 
perienced nothing but disappointment and discouragement at 
seeing the invention, when its merits were acknowledged, boldly 
infringed upon and pirated by the very people who showed 
themselves at first most averse to it. Now (February 8, 1848) 
there are upward of 5,000 horse-power of engines, made or in 
course of construction, applied or to be applied to screw-ships 
on our system. On these, a large amount of patent fees are 
due, for which I shall be obliged to "sue." 

The claim made on behalf of John Ericsson to the honor of 
substituting the screw for the paddle-wheel has been hotly dis- 
puted. In the end, when all the evidence is sifted, his name 
will be associated with that great advance in steam navigation, 
as the name of Watt is associated with the steam-engine, Ful- 
ton's with the steamboat, and that of Morse with the tele- 
graph. Let them build monuments as high as they may to 
others, they can never overshadow the memorial which the 
impartial judgment of the future will accord to Ericsson. 

As a screw is reported to have been introduced into England 
from China early in the seventeenth century, its origin may 
be referred to a period as remote as the invention of the wind- 
mill, or the smoke-jack it so much resembles. Still, it is to 
Ericsson, unquestionably, that we owe the revolution in steam 
navigation, resulting from the demonstration of the possibilities 
of the screw propeller. 

How important his labors in this regard were, in establish- 
ing the supremacy of steam upon the ocean, is shown by the 


calculation made in 1832 that the cost of 198 14s. 3d. for 
transporting four hundred tons of merchandise over a distance 
of five hundred miles with a full-powered paddle vessel, was 
actually reduced by using a screw vessel of auxiliary power to 
60 12*. 6rf. or seventy per. cent.* In this difference lies 
the solution of the problem of competition with sails. 

Any device, from a smoke-jack to a windmill, with arms 
turning upon a centre, or having the spiral motion of the screw, 
was considered sufficient to antagonize Ericsson's claims to pri- 
ority. " The principle of the propeller," Mr. Sargent tells us, 
" was first suggested to the inventor by the analogies of nature, 
and a study of the means employed to propel the inhabitants 
of the air and deep. lie satisfied himself that all such propul- 
sion, in nature is produced by oblique action ; though, in com- 
mon with all practical men, he at first supposed that it was in- 
separably attended by loss of power. But when he reflected 
that this was the universal principle adapted by the great Me- 
chanician of the universe, in enabling the birds, insects, and 
fishes to move through their respective elements, he knew that 
he must be in error. This he was soon able to demonstrate, 
and he became convinced, by the strict application of the laws 
which govern matter and motion, that no loss of power what- 
ever attends the oblique action of the propelling surfaces ap- 
plied to [Nature's locomotives." 

In connection with his studies of the propeller at this time 
Ericsson applied to the equipoise rudder his plan of investigat- 
ing the operation in nature of the mechanical laws, as would 
appear from a letter written twenty years later to Mr. Robert 
B. Forbes. In this he said : 

NEW YOKE, September 29, 1857. 

MT DEAB SIB : I note with profound satisfaction that you have been in 
the habit of swearing by me. Swear on ; my opposition, to the equipoise 
rudder furnishes no just ground for your withdrawing your confidence. 
You say that the several engineers that you consulted all pronounced 
in favor of the equipoise ; you mean that all of them agreed that the 
rudder could be worked with very little power and that it would steer. 
Any person of ordinary intelligence could see all that. The drag in- 
separable from this steering apparatus, this "vile contrivance" as you 

* John Bourne's Treatise on the Screw Propeller, p. 183. London, 1858. 


remember I called it at our interview, requires, however, some knowledge 
of liydro-dynamics to determine. Your suggestion is far from being cor- 
rect that nay knowledge on the subject is mere theory. All my early 
propeller experiments in England were made in boats steered by equi- 
poise rudders. I know the critter to pieces, and so do the canal in en of 
Europe, who no longer favor this machine, invented for the lazy at the 
expense of force and time. You will admit on reflection that a rudder 
to be theoretically perfect should form an. elongation of the vessel and 
be if possible, devoid of thickness. The Great Constructor of the craft 
of the deep, not only carries out this theory but adds flexibility to the 
rudder, which renders its action absolutely perfect by presenting the 
greatest angle at the aft end. 

The current of water, instead of being forced violently from ifcs 
course along the body is gradually deviated on meeting the rudder, 
thereby causing a minimum retardation to the moving body, remov- 
ing at the same time the greatest action to the extreme end, where 
the leverage is greatest. Although we cannot, with all our boasted 
ingenuity, imitate this beautiful property of flexibility which Omnipo- 
tence employs, we can' at least construct our rudder so as to form. 
an elongation of the vessel. As the thin stern-posts of iron vessels admit 
of a rudder almost devoid of thickness, we are enabled in that class 
of vessels to do all that theory demands. Let us, then, not introduce 
a detached body to be towed abaft the vessel. 

I note particularly what you say of the small angle required by 
your rudder. There is a fixed law in dynamics that " every deviation 
from a straight line of a moving body is attended with a given diminution 
of speed or momentum." Do not suppose that there is any way to cheat 
this law. 

Very truly yours, 




Tne Perfection Engine. Plans for a War Vessel. Ericsson Employed 
by the United States Government During the War with Mexico. 
Elected Honorary Church Member and Becomes a Citizen. Honors 
from England. His Temperance Principles. Prosperity and Ad- 

DURING the years in which Ericsson was so constantly oc- 
cupied with the application of his ideas to the practical 
purposes of navigation, and in defending himself against the 
efforts to rob him of the fruit of his industry, he still found 
time to develop various new inventions. He designed in 1S46 
an apparatus for heating the feed-water of boilers, and a high- 
pressure condensing steam-engine with two single-acting cylin- 
ders, the diameter of one being five times that of the other. 
This engine was patented in America and in other countries. 
It received the special attention of Professor Dionysius Lard- 
ner, the British writer and lecturer on Physical Science, who 
had been Professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy in 
the London University until domestic difficulties led to his 
transfer to the United States. During his residence in ISTew 
York, Dr. Lardner devoted several months to the theoretical 
study of Ericsson's engine, and he continued these investiga- 
tions after his removal to Paris. He estimated that Ericsson's 
engine showed an economy of fuel equalled only by the engines 
used in the mines of Cornwall. 

Lardner endeavored to introduce this engine into France, 
and there was an amiable dispute between him and its inventor 
as to whether he, should receive any remuneration for this ser- 
vice. On August 23, 1849, he wrote to Ericsson from Paris, 
saying : " After the services you formerly rendered me, I think 
you need not have felt much hesitation in accepting my aid 


without thinking of compensation in any shape. I can assure 
YOU that I would act for you as zealously and carefully as for 
myself. However, seeing what your sentiments are on this 
point, I believe that it will he best for you that I should at 
once acquiesce in your proposition of accepting a fifth of the 
net profits for France, if through my exertions the patent 
should be rendered productive." As Professor Lardner had 
gathered 200,000 from a lecturing tour in the United States, 
he was much more independent in his circumstances than 
Ericsson was at this time. 

In the spring of 1846, the House Committee on Naval Af- 
fairs of the 29th Congress considered the subject of employing 
steam for naval armaments and sent a circular to various per- 
sons, asking an opinion as to the practicability of rendering an 
iron vessel shot-proof. Among the replies accompanying the 
report of the Committee (Report Ko. 681, JL R, 29th Con- 
gress, 1st Session) is one from John Ericsson. He argued that 
u the weight of a floating body is prescribed within such nar- 
row limits as to preclude the possibility of making the side of 
a vessel of sufficient thickness to prevent penetration by heavy 
projectiles. He recommended, therefore, a system of water- 
tight bulkheads, so distributed that less than one-fortieth of 
the ship's displacement would be occupied by water entering 
through a shot-hole. He proposed also to strengthen the bows 
so that they would deflect a shot when the vessel was fighting 
bows on, the method he always favored. He forwarded a plan 
for a 1,200- ton iron vessel, This he proposed to build, and arm 
with two 12-inch and four 8-inch guns, for $415,000. She was 
to be 200 feet long by 36 feet beam, and to make u fifteen miles 
an hour at sea in pretty rough weather." Three of his guns 
were to be placed within the line of the protected bow, one was 
to train over the stern, and the other two were to be placed 
amidships. These guns were 'to be mounted on circular rail- 
ways and the engines of the vessel were to be partially pro- 
tected by stowing the coal in water-tight bulkheads over the 

This Congressional inquiry antedates by nine years the ap- 
pearance, during the Crimean War, of the first French armor- 
clads, Ericsson's rejection in 1846 of the idea of undertaking 


to protect the ordinary war-ship against shot, cleared the way 
for his tinul conclusions as to the only possihle type for a com- 
pletely protected armored vessel. lie advanced step by step in 
his study of battle-ships, until his mastery of the subject en- 
abled him to act at a critical moment with the utmost prompt- 
ness and decision, while others were yet lingering in the pre- 
liminary stages of discussion. This diagram of the deck plan 
of the vessel he recommended to Congress also suggests the 
monitor idea of all-round fire. 

DecK Plan of Ericsson's War Vessel of 1846. 

, The committee in their report called attention to the fact 
that the Princeton was the first ship ever constructed with her 
machinery and propeller so arranged as to be secured from an 
enemy's shot, and urged that " this fact should hereafter be the 
governing principle in the construction of a steam navy." They 
also said : " The machinery and propeller of this ship were in- 
vented and arranged under the superintendence of that eminent 
civil engineer, Captain John Ericsson." The committee recom- 
mended the building of twelve iron war steamers and one iron 
frigate, but beyond the competitive trial of the paddle-wheel 
Saranac and the screw vessel San Jacinto, already recorded, 
and the building of the 23-gun paddle-wheel steamer Sus- 
quehanna, nothing was done. This was in the line of Con- 
gressional precedent. In 1816 the national legislature had de- 
cided that the navy must be gradually increased and improved. 
So, for the next twenty-three years they spent an average of 
600,000 a year in partially building frigates and seventy -fours, 
erecting houses over them at a large expense, and then leaving 
them to rot on the stocks, while the men who were to man 
them were deprived of the opportunity to practise their pro- 
fession, which the commissioning of these vessels would have 
given them. 


This was one of the most trying periods of Ericsson's his- 
tory, and at times he was driven nearly distracted by pecuniary 
difficulties. In full reliance upon the justice of Government 
he had expended 6,000 in money, besides his time, in the work 
upon the Princeton. This involved him in debt, and he was 
constantly harassed by the attempt to meet over-due obliga- 
tions out of an empty purse. His check-book shows balances to 
his credit during the two years ending with May, 1846, varying 
from 1,000 to nearly li,000, but much of this was expended 
in completing contract work. On May 5, IS-iG, he was reduced 
to $38.54, and against the entry of this ominous balance he 
has made a memorandum in Swedish to the effect that it was a 
most discouraging exhibit for so many years of hard work. 
He had not even then touched bottom, and $23 was at one time 
the limit of his credit with the bank. September 16, 1846, he 
wrote to Mr. Sargent, saying : 

" I received your letter of the 14th yesterday afternoon, 
and opened it with trembling hand. My worst fears were 
realized, and I turned nearly crazy for a few minutes. In my 
despair I resorted to the expedient of asking Delamater to help 
me, and he has done so for to-day, appropriating the funds he 
has for meeting ,a bill at the end of next week. Kow, if in 
addition to my anxiety already experienced, I should ruin the 
yonng man's credit by not being able to refund the money by 
next Wednesday I shall have to cut my throat." 

" It is unfortunate," said Ericsson, in a previous letter, " that 
I have allowed the supposed payment of my Princeton claim to 
enter into my financial calculations, as, in all probability, it will 
be the means of throwing me on my beam ends ; still more un- 
fortunate is it that immediately on the success of the Princeton 
I did not pack up my traps, make a present of my inventions 
to the United States, and recross the Atlantic with a grateful 
heart to find my retreat left open, an advantage which I do not 
now enjoy." * 

From this condition of pecuniary distress Ericsson was 
for a time relieved by the fortunate sale to the Government 
of the steamer MassaohusGbtBy in which he had a part inter- 
est, and bj the receipt, December 27, 1847, of a payment of 
* Letter to John O. Sargent, New York, July SO, 184$. 


i,30(J for the application of his fresh water apparatus to that 

A portion of this year was occupied with a careful study of 
oscillating engines, and on June IT, ISiT, he wrote to the Com- 
mittee on Engines of the United States War Steamers that he 
had u succeeded in removing the principal imperfections of 
this simple instrument for transmitting the force of steam for 
purposes of locomotion/' lie was also called upon by the United 
States Treasury Department for a report upon the alterations 
required in the Revenue cutter Polk, and he presented to the 
War Department a plan for an iron steamer to navigate the Gulf 
of 31exico and the Eio Grande. This was a time of war, and the 
Government were looking in all directions for an improvement 
in the means of transporting troops and supplies to Mexico. 

The apparatus for condensing into fresh water the steam 
generated by the boilers of ocean-going vessels was applied in 
ISiS to the Alabama^ a steamer belonging to the Quartermas- 
ter's Department of the United States Army to the U. S. S. 
Edith, then fitting out for the Pacific, and to the Revenue cut- 
ter Legare. The profit on the $10,725 received for this ser- 
vice constituted nearly all of Ericsson's income for this year. 
But las frugality in personal expenditure enabled him even 
then to respond to the calls of duty and affection, as is shown 
by his remittances to his wife in England and his mother in 
Sweden. A report to the Quartermaster-General stated that 
there was a saving of twenty-five per cent, in fuel from the use 
of the fresh water apparatus, and that it condensed all the steam 
generated during an entire day, with full fires and engines sta- 
tionary. The captain of the Alabama, after a voyage from 
]S r ew Orleans to Chagres and back, said : 

The condensing apparatus for making fresh water for nse of pas- 
sengers and crew works admirably, furnishing one thousand two hun- 
dred gallons, if necessary, for twenty-four hours, enabling us to dis- 
pense with at least three thousand gallons of water, which weight can be 
carried in fuel or cargo. We drank this water from choice during the 
whole voyage ; ifc is clear as the purest spring water. 

Unfortunately, iron had been used for the tubes instead of 
copper r and these were rapidly destroyed by the galvanic ac- 
tion resulting from the use of copper in the vessel itself. So 


the inventor's confident expectation that his apparatus would 
be introduced into other Government vessels, and ultimately 
into the Atlantic steamers, was not realized. 

In January, 18<i7, Ericsson was in Philadelphia experiment- 
ing in the use for locomotives of anthracite coal, which had been 
first employed on steamboats in place of wood ten years earlier. 
January 5th he wrote: "Christmas and Xew Year's have 
played the devil with my work on the Reading road. We are 
now at work again, and probably this week we shall know some- 
thing more of burning anthracite than we now do." He was 
not an observer of holidays, and all days were much the same 
with him. 

Ericsson became a naturalized citizen October 28, 1848, and 
his correspondence for 1848 contains the only political allusion 
I have been able to find. The Democrats had nominated as 
their candidate for President, General Lewis Cass, of Michi- 
gan, and for Vice-President, General W. C. Butler, of Kentucky. 
Writing to his enthusiastic Whig friend, Sargent, May 31st, 
on the eve of the Whig Xational Convention, Ericsson said : 
" Opposed by two generals your party cannot surely think 
of any other man than the victorious soldier whose military 
lustre is untarnished by a single spot or speck. I therefore 
take it for granted that Taylor will be nominated." He sym- 
pathized with his friend's enthusiasm, but personally he took 
very little interest in the contentions dividing parties at that 
time. It was not until slavery became the main issue in the 
contest that his earnestness was aroused. lie was hostile to 
slavery from the beginning, and was accustomed to say that he 
could conceive of nothing meaner than the desire of one man 
to live on the toil of another. 

1849 was another trying year for Ericsson. His receipts 
from all sources were only two thousand dollars and at the end 
of this year he records against his balance of $132.32 on his 
check- book this legend, written in Swedish : " A beautiful bal- 
ance indeed to start the new year with. One gives much for 
little as he grows older and more used up." He was occupied in 
1849 in an unsuccessful attempt to secure a contract for an 
immense pumping-engine for a new dry dock at the JBroofelyn 
Navy Yard. "You must know," he wrote to Ms agent at 


Washington, " that I built in Europe a machine raising 3,000 
gallons of water per minute to precisely the same height as will 
be requisite at the Brooklyn dock by means remarkably sim- 
ple, durable, arid efficient: and cheap. But as we have no dry 
docks in England or on the continent, I could not profit by my 
beautiful machine. Now, however, is a chance of making a 
little fortune." 

Ericsson was a pioneer in the attempt to solve the difficult 
problem of introducing steam power upon the canals of the 
United States. In 1844 he entered into a contract with Charles 
Dimmock,* of Richmond, Ya., to build small steamboats for 
canal navigation. It was agreed that they were to exceed the 
horse-boats in speed, and as they failed in this he became in- 
volved in an unfortunate litigation with the purchaser. "With 
his usual hopefulness he had guaranteed results which the con- 
ditions of canal navigation made it impossible for him to realize. 
In October, 1849, he entered into a contract with James S. 
French, of Old Point Comfort, Ya., to build for him for $3,000 
a model locomotive, to test French's invention for obtaining 
greater adhesion to the rails and security against derailment 
with lighter locomotives. This engine, called the Climber, was 
to be used on an experimental road authorized by the Virginia 

In 1849 Ericsson secured a patent for his " independent 
action condenser." It provides for condensing the exhaust 
steam from a marine engine by passing it through tubes, 
around which circulates cold water from the sea, the water 
flowing in a direction opposite to that of the escaping steam. 
The water is supplied by a pump, worked by an auxiliary 
engine so as to be independent of the action of the engine 
running the vessel, and can either be returned to the boiler to 
be again converted into steam or used for other purposes. 
This invention is described at length in Ericsson's volume, 
" Contributions to the Centennial Exhibition," and appears to 
be an improvement upon his previous condensers. In 1847 a 
board composed of three naval engineers, and four other ex- 
perts, reported to the Secretary of the Treasury on this appar- 

* An ex-army officer, West Point graduate, and native of Massachusetts, 
who died in the Confederate service in 1863 as General Bimmock. 


atus as applied to the revenue cutter JLegare, saying, at the 
conclusion of a very flattering report : 

We cannot but congratulate ourselves and the profession with which 
we are connected thafc you have seen fit to test this experiment by the 
construction of the apparatus upon which we have been called to 
report. Such encouragement identifies in the merits of success the 
patron with the improvement, and is honorable to yourself no less than 
to the nation in whose service you have bestowed it. 

They reported a saving of 7.56 per cent, in fuel, " and alto- 
gether, independent of the loss of heat by the presence of scale 
in the boiler when salt water is used, and from leaks incurred 
by the oxidizing effects of salt water." 

A number of minor indentions were sent to the Crystal 
Palace Exhibition of 1851. For an alarm barometer a prize 
medal was awarded. The tube of the common barometer was 
so enlarged at the upper end that the mercury in falling ran 
out of the lower end and into a cap, so adjusted that its weight 
set loose a catch and released the hammer of a gong moved by 
a spring. An index regulated the altitude of the mercurial 
column at which the gong would sound, thus giving notice of 
sudden changes. 

The Croton Aqueduct Department of New York adopted, 
after a series of careful experiments, a fluid meter of Ericsson's 
invention, measuring the flow of water by plungers of definite 
size working between stops. He also patented a ineter for 
measuring fluids by a calculation of the velocity with which 
they passed through apparatus of different dimensions. 

In 1851 a pamphlet was published in London entitled 
" Brief Explanation of some Philosophical and other Instru- 
ments placed in the United States Division of the Industrial 
Exhibition of All Nations, Hyde Park, London, by John Erics- 
son, Knight of the Order of Yasa, Member of the Royal Acad- 
emy of Sciences, Stockholm ; Corresponding Member of the 
Franklin Institute, Philadelphia ; Member of the Royal Acad- 
emy of Military Sciences of Sweden ; Hon. Member of the 
American Institute, New York, &a, &e., &c. n It was accom- 
panied by this dedication : 



ILLUSTRIOUS PBINCE In laying before your Boyal Highness the ac- 
companying Brief Statement of some Philosophical and other Instru- 
ments placed in the Industrial Exhibition of All Nations, it is my duty 
to state that these mechanical productions, the result of much labor, 
would never have been put before the public in the complete form they 
now appear, but for the encouragement extended by your Royal High- 
ness to all nations alike an encouragement entitling your Eoyal High- 
ness to the gratitude of the whole civilized world, and the results of 
which mark an epoch in the annals of mankind. 

Your Boyal Highness's most humble Servant, 


NEW YOBK, June 16, 1851. 

Included in the brief explanation are seven of Ericsson's 
inventions the instrument for measuring distance at sea; the 
hydrostatic gauge for measuring the volume of fluids under 
pressure ; the reciprocating fluid meter ; the alarm barometer ; 
the pyrometer for measuring high temperatures ; the rotary 
fluid meter, and the sea-lead. Lithographic illustrations of 
these several instruments accompanied the text. The various 
distinctions referred to in the title-page of this pamphlet were 
conferred upon him after he left England in 1839. In 1843, 
the Franklin Institute elected him a corresponding member, 
in recognition of the service rendered in designing the steam 
fire-engine, for which the New York Mechanics' Institute 
awarded the only gold medal it has ever bestowed upon an in- 
ventor. In 1847 the Eoyal Academy of Sciences of Stockholm 
elected Ericsson an honorary member; in 1850 the Swedish 
Government bestowed upon him tlie distinction of Knight of 
the Order of Vasa, and in 1852 the Royal Military Academy of 
Sciences of Sweden elected him an honorary member. 

The studies into the nature and application of heat as a me- 
chanical force, begun by Ericsson at the time of his youthful 
invention of the flame-engine, were continued at intervals for 
three score years and ten, or until the end of his active and use- 
ful life. At a very early date he discovered the fallacy of the 
conclusions concerning high temperatures resulting from the 
use of Wedgewood's method of measuring these by gauging 
the dimensions of a cylinder of clay hef ore and after heating it 
in a fnrnace. This measurement gave 21,637 degrees as the 


temperature of iron melted in cupola furnaces. Ericsson satis- 
fied himself that this was at least six times too great, and the 
actual temperature proved to be 2,786 degrees. The inven- 
tion of the pyrometer was one result of these studies. Erics- 
son's method of measuring high artificial temperatures by the 
expansion of confined gases has since been shown to be one of 
the most reliable of the dozen different methods tested, and 
he was a pioneer in this field of investigation, as in so many 
others. Of the others none have been superior, except per- 
haps Siernens's method, recently adopted, of measuring tem- 
peratures by changes in resistance to electricity. 

After his removal to the United States in 1839, Ericsson 
continued his experiments with hot air as a motor, building 
eight caloric engines for experiment between ISiO and 1850. 
Seven of these cost together $9,400 and the eighth 7,000. 
He gradually enlarged the dimensions of these experimental 
engines from the fourteen inches of his original model to six- 
teen inches and then to thirty. Into these engines lie intro- 
duced the principle of "regeneration/' as he called it, or 
transfer of the heat from the outgoing to the incoming air by 
passing the currents alternately through a metal box or chest 
filled with wire meshes. 

Theory, he said, " clearly indicates that, owing to the small 
capacity for heat of atmospheric air that beneficial property 
which the Great Mechanician gives to it as a fit medium for an- 
imated warm beings to live in and, in consequence, also, of the 
almost infinite subdivision among the wires, the temperature 
of the circulating air in passing through the regenerator of the 
caloric engine must be greatly changed. Practice has fully 
realized all that theory predicted, for the temperatures at x 
and 2 [that is, at the points of entrance to and exit from the re- 
generator] have never varied during the trials less than 350 de- 
grees, when the engine has been in full operation ; indeed it 
has been found impossible to obtain a differential temperature 
of less magnitude with sufficient fires in the furnaces. The 
great number of disks, their isolated character, and the distri- 
bution of the air in such a vast number of minute cells, readily 
explain the surprising fall and increase of temperature of the 
opposite currents passing the regenerator, and which constitutes 


the grand feature of the caloric engine, effecting, as it does, 
such an extraordinary saving of fuel by rendering the caloric 
not converted into work active over and over again." * 

Letters from Ericsson show that lie was at work upon his 
caloric engine in 1847. Early in December of that year a 
model engine was sent from the factory and set up in his room 
at 2so. 95 Franklin Street for experiment. On December 23d, 
he wrote to Sargent : " The caloric is very nearly finished. It 
will beyond all question succeed. Isever felt so sure in my 
life." Six weeks later, January 14, 1848, he wrote: "I am at 
this moment under- lock and key with Harrison, who is en- 
gaged in the secret operation of stuffing the guts of the regen- 
erator of the caloric, which is in all other respects ready for 
trial. I have had pressure, and all is tight. The thing must 

Bat not yet, for January 20th he wrote again, saying: 
" The caloric is not yet completed ; a deposit of water, occa- 
sioned by the pressure of atmospheric air within the machine, 
has given me trouble, great trouble. The steam formed from 
this water has produced inflammation in the stomach of the re- 
generator. Cold applications have been resorted to without 
reducing the undue temperature. All that medical skill- can 
effect will be done, and no fears need be apprehended as to the 
safety of the patient." 

On the principle that troubles never come singly, Ericsson 
at this time, as he wrote another correspondent, " suffered the 
pains of the damned," having been obliged to lose three of his 
strongest back teeth, to cure the toothache. A few days later, 
January 27th, he reported concerning the ailing one, for -whom 
he himself served as physician, that " the patient is yet labor- 
ing under his intestine complaints, caused by water in the 
stomach, but his physician entertains strong hopes of a com- 
plete cure." On February 2, 1848, he wrote : 

" I fear the unexpected difficulty cannot be got over with- 
out a material change in the apparatus. c Take nothing for 
granted' is an excellent precept in all mechanical combinations 
where the physical agents are called upon to cooperate. Un- 
derstand me, I have not discovered anything wrong in the 
* Contributions to tke Centennial Exhibition, p. 429. 


principle of the motive engine, practical difficulties alone have 
presented themselves in a new quarter. Bent as I am on doing 
something great in my line, I thank God that I have the vast 
steam engine improvement to fall back upon, scarcely inferior 
in importance, whilst more readily convertible into dollars. So 
don't be alarmed, we shall still go to London together/ 5 

This indicates a purpose of visiting England, which was 
never realized. 

Five days elapsed and again, on February 7, 1848, Erics- 
son wrote : " I have, after serious reflection, decided on mak- 
ing the requisite alteration in the caloric, the new parts are all 
on hand arid probably in two weeks I start again. The new 
difficulty I met with took me aback for a day or two, but I feel 
now as warm and confident as ever now, don't laugh at me 
when I tell you c next time' 3 the thing will go off without a 
screw to alter. I can hardly be mistaken in supposing that I 
now see "all the difficulties that can have any material bearing 
on the operation of the great principle in practice. I am 
shocked to think that for a single moment I should have con- 
templated relinquishing my gigantic scheme." 

February 15th "the alteration of the caloric was more than 
half completed " and the inventor was " in fine spirits and full 
of confidence." In another fortnight he was able to announce 
that all difficulties had been overcome and the caloric engine 
was ready for trial. March 3d he reported, saying : " I wrote 
last Saturday that the caloric was ready for trial. So it was, 
excepting some hard ingredients for its stomach which it does 
not take fire minutes to cram in. Isow these ingredients, how- 
ever simple, the manufacturer did not let me have until last 
night confound him ! On starting the affair this morning 
everything went straight off, as I had calculated, and, as you 
suppose, the thing does everything but talk. I am writing 
under the click-clack of the machine, and have not time to go 
into particulars now." 

We may be sure that this " click-clack " was music in the 
ears of Ericsson, and these letters indicate the intense delight 
he took in his chosen work of mechanical creation. " Caloric 
does work," he wrote, on March 8th, " and &ot a single practi- 
cal detail remains to be removed." 


The engine here alluded to was followed by others, as we 
have seen, and finally, in 1851, the work of developing this new 
motor had advanced to the production of a ninth experimental 
engine, this costing 17,000, having two feet stroke and two 
compressing cylinders of forty-eight inches diameter. The re- 
generator of this engine contained an aggregate of 13,520,000 
meshes for each working cylinder, the two thus distributing the 
air through more than twenty-seven million minute cells, there 
being, necessarily, as many small spaces between the disks as 
there are meshes. As there were 228,000 feet, or forty-one and 
one-half miles of wire in each regenerator, the metallic surface 
presented was equivalent to that of four boilers, each forty feet 
long and four feet in diameter. The regenerator occupied but 
two cubic feet and the boilers would fill 1,920 times that amount 
of space. After putting a moderate quantity of fuel into the 
furnace, the engine worked for three hours without fresh fuel, 
and it frequently worked for one hour after the fires had been 
drawn. But eleven ounces of fuel were consumed per horse- 
power per hour. It was estimated that nine ounces were re- 
quired to make good the loss of radiation into the air in con- 
tact with the exterior of the machine, only two ounces being 
lost in the process of transferring the heat to and from the re- 

1851 was one of Ericsson's prosperous years. He had en- 
tered upon 1850 with some sarcastic reflections concerning the 
very unsatisfactory showing of $132.32 to his credit at the 
Manhattan Bank, but by January, 1851, his balance had in- 
creased to $8,690.10. More than that, his improved caloric 
engine was regarded as a success, and there is an entry in his 
accounts recording the receipt of ten thousand dollars from 
William Bloodgood'and Dr. C. Bellinger for ten per cent, inter- 
est in the foreign patents. Previous to this he had disposed of 
interests in his American patents to Edwin "W. Stoughton, sub- 
sequently United States Minister to Russia, and to Messrs. 
Tyler and J. Bloodgood, the entries indicating the sale of two 
tenths interests to the two gentlemen last named for $11,000. 

In January, 1852, the King of Sweden sent to Ericsson 
his sincere congratulations on the success of his test caloric 


" The regularity of action and perfect working of every part 
of the experimental thirty-inch engine, completed in 1851," 
says Ericsson, u and above all its apparent great economy of 
fuel, inclined some enterprising merchants of Xew York in the 
latter part of 1851 to accept my proposition to construct a ship 
for navigating the ocean, propelled by paddle-wheels actuated 
by the caloric engine. This work was commenced forthwith, 
and pushed with such vigor that within nine months from com- 
mencing the construction of the machinery, and within seven 
months of the laying of the keel, the paddle-wheels of the ca- 
loric ship Ericsson turned around at the dock. In view of the 
fact that the engines consisted of four working cylinders of one 
hundred and sixty-eight inches diameter, six feet stroke, and 
four air-compressing cylinders of 137 inches diameter, and six 
feet stroke, it may be claimed that, in point of magnitude and 
rapidity of construction, the motive machinery of the caloric 
ship stands unrivalled in the annals of marine engineering. 
The principal engineers of Xew York all expressed the opinion 
that a better specimen of workmanship than that presented by 
the huge engines of the caloric ship had not been produced by 
our artisans at that time." * 

The Ericsson was certainly a singularly bold undertaking, 
and it shows the confidence her designer inspired in business 
men that he should have been able to obtain the money to 
build her. Her principal owner was Mr. John B. Kitching, 
a young man of wealth and enterprise. Another gentleman 
interested was Mr. Edward Dunham, president of the Corn 
Exchange Bank of Xew York. 

The cost of the vessel was about half a million dollars, her 
engines costing $130,000. Her length was 260 feet, breadth 
40 feet, and draught IT feet, tonnage nearly 2,200. The keel 
was laid in April, 1852, she was launched five months later, 
September 15, 185 2, and went on her trial trip January 4, 1853. 
Thus in nine months, or half the time ordinarily required at 
that date for completing a vessel of her class, Ericsson had 
pushed to completion this vessel of novel design and including 
so many new and untried problems of construction. Ifc is a 
remarkable illustration, not alone of his industry, energy, arid 
* Contributions to tae Centennial Exhibition, p. 43& 


skill in management, but of the completeness of his preliminary 
preparation in the way of designing and planning. He could 
carry in his head every detail of the most complicated construc- 
tion, and when his drawings were completed every bolt was 
in place, every screw where it should be, and he was able to 
keep several establishments busied on different parts of his 
mechanism with the certainty that when the several parts were 
brought together, they would fall into adjustment without 
change provided his working drawings had been strictly fol- 
lowed. He was most exacting in his requirements and he 
thoroughly understood what good work was. So if the work 
upon the Ericsson was hurried, it was in no respect slighted. 

Up to that time no finer or stronger ship had been built in 
the United States. Indeed, the agreement with the builders 
required that the vessel should be " the strongest ever built in 
N"ew York/' and Ericsson was not the man to let such a stipu- 
lation become a dead letter enactment. The Scientific Amer- 
ican totally condemned the principle of the caloric ship, and 
persistently predicted its failure, but in fairness it said : " We 
heartily wish success to Captain Ericsson and his compatriots, 
for patriots they certainly are. The caloric ship Ericsson is a 
marvel of faith and enterprise, their energy and spirit deserve 
success and the praise of the whole world. The caloric ship 
has new and very excellent features about it. The designer 
and constructor of its machinery have shown themselves to have 
long heads and skilful hands. We have seen nothing to com- 
pare with the castings. It is safe and comfortable for passen- 
gers, and it saves the firemen from the pandemonium of our 
steamship." * If these had been the days of forced draught 
with fire-rooms at 180, this comparison would have been still 
stronger. Comfort, as well as safety, was involved in Erics- 
son's grand scheme for substituting hot air for steam at sea. 

A week after her trial trip, on February 11 ? 1853, " the 
representatives of the Press " and others were invited to take a 
trip on the Ericsson^ and the papers of the day following con- 
tained glowing accounts of her success and most confident pre- 
dictions of a coming revolution in locomotion. During the trip 
the gentlemen present appointed a committee to draft appro- 
* Scientific American, New York, January 22, 1853, p. 149. 


priate resolutions, and these were adopted with enthusiasm. 
The members of the Committee were Eichurd Grant White, 
Professor James J. Alapes, and Freeman limit, all gentlemen 
then and since well known in Xew York. One of these resolu- 
tions declared, " that the peculiar adaptability" to sea vessels of 
the new motor presented to the world by Captain Ericsson, is 
now fully established and it is likely to prove superior to steam 
for such purposes," 

In a speech on this occasion Professor Mapes said : c * I con- 
sider there were but two epochs of science the one marked by 
Xewton, the other by Ericsson." " The inventor to whom 
this unwholesome flattery was paid," says his critic of the 
Scientific American^ u rebuked the speaker with manly modes- 
ty." Some years later (July 20, 1ST5) Ericsson wrote to this 
paper saying : 

After having completed the general design of the motive engines of 
the caloric ship, and finding that In proportion to the power exerted by 
the 72-inch trial engine, a speed of five miles an hour called for cylin- 
ders of 168 inches diameter, 6 feet stroke, I hesitated in undertaking the 
construction. But for the encouragement received from some of our 
leading commercial men who were consulted on the subject, the caloric 
ship would not have been built. Let me add, that all united in the 
opinion that if a speed of seven miles could be produced, the work 
ought to proceed. Francis B. Cutting, the eminent patent lawyer, who 
took a greater interest in the scheme than probably anyone else, stated 
emphatically during a conversation at the Union Club, that if I felfc 
sure of being able to produce a rate of five miles an hour, I ought not to 
hesitate, reminding me of Fulton and his first attempt. 

I have never before communicated the above facts to anyone, except- 
ing a few intimate friends ; nothing short of my integrity having been 
assailed in your columns would have induced me to make a statement 
which I had reserved as an accompaniment to my account of the world's 
first and last big air-engine. 

I abstained, in my letter of Saturday, from adverting to your edito- 
rial reference to " the Ericsson liot-air stock-jobbers," confident that 
you had inadvertently made the damaging remark. 

Replying in the same month (July 7, 1875), to a compli- 
mentary letter from bis associate in the caloric sldp enterprise, 
Mr. J. B. Kitehing, Ericsson said : " Your remark about the 
oalorlc skip gratifies me more tlian I can express. There was 


more engineering in that ship than in ten Monitors. I regard 
the hot-air ship as by far my best work, it was simply a me- 
chanical marvel. The four 168-inch working cylinders and 
four air-compressing cylinders of 137-inch diameter, sink the 
Great Eastern machinery into insignificance." 

The Scientific American seems to have struck the only jar- 
ring note in the general chorus of approval and prophecy, and 
to this Ericsson made no objection, but the suggestion that he 
was a party to a stock-jobbing operation, or that the gentlemen 
associated with him could have any other motive for investing 
so much money in a new venture than the obvious one, could 
not pass without notice. It is, of course, impossible to prove a 
negative, but such a charge was not only opposed to the facts 
and probabilities of the case, but it is contradicted by the whole 
course and tenor of a life as absolutely free in its way from any 
suggestion of the kind as that of Simon Stylites ; for Ericsson, 
if he did not dwell on a pillar apart, was equally removed from 
the ordinary currents of sordid calculation by his devotion to 

" The age of steam is closed," declared one of the admirers 
of the caloric ship the next day, "the age of caloric opens. 
Fulton and Watt belong to the past. Ericsson is the great me- 
chanical genius of the present and the future."" Somewhat too 
enthusiastic as to the ship, but not so far wrong as to her de- 

The Baltic and the Pacific, two vessels of the Collins line 
at that time offering themselves for comparison, each used fifty- 
eight tons of coal in twenty-four hours ; the four furnaces of 
the Ericsson consumed six tons in the same time. With this 
amount eight pounds pressure per square inch was obtained, 
and a regular speed of seven miles per hour, with a possible 
eight. Critics declared that the difference in the coal consump- 
tion was due to the difference of speed. Ericsson replied that 
the consumption of coal was nearly all due to radiation, that 
increased power and speed would not result in corresponding 
increase in coal consumption, and that on a large scale, much 
of this radiation would be prevented. The question was never 
tested. Difficulties innumerable assailed an engine working at 
a temperature of M4 and constantly subject in all of its parts 


to the destructive influence of dry heat, burning out its lubri- 
cants, loosening its joints, and rapidly destroying its working 
members by oxidation. 

After being thrown open to curious visitors for a day or two 
the Ericsson started on a trip to Washington, February 16, 
1353, arriving there in safety after a stormy passage, and with- 
out injury to her machinery, which was so utterly unlike any- 
thing before seen on board ship as to invite the distrust of all 
properly constituted sailors. Her four huge working cylinders 
were arranged in pairs along the centre of the vessel, two for- 
ward and two aft of the midship section, and each 1-i feet, or 
168 inches in diameter. Instead of resting in the usual man- 
ner on the keelsons these cylinders, each of 924: feet, or 691 
gallons cubical contents, were suspended, like enormous camp- 
kettles, over the furnace fires. Above the working cylinders 
were an equal number of supply cylinders or single acting 
pumps, 11^- feet, 137 inches, in diameter. Eight piston-rods, 
each 14 feet long, connected the mammoth pistons of each set 
of cylinders, and these pistons had a total area of 43 cubic feet- 

Though the pistons, with their connecting-rods, weighed up~ 
ward of fifty tons, so perfect was the frame- work supporting 
this weight and that of the cylinders that Captain Sands of 
the navy, who, with Ericsson, accompanied the ship to Wash- 
ington, was able to report to the Secretary of the Navy that 
not the slightest movement was observed in any part, even 
when the vessel was passing through a gale and rolling very 
heavily. Ericsson expected to attain a pressure of twelve 
pounds with his engine, and calculated that this would give a 
speed of ten or even twelve miles an hour, but it was found 
impossible to exceed eight miles. Still, this was all that had 
been promised, and the failure in speed alone would not have 
secured the condemnation of the vessel if there had been suf- 
ficient prospect of increasing it. 

Considering the time, no bolder feat of marine engineering 
has ever been accomplished ; so that it was truly said that the 
calorie ship was at the same time a commercial failure and 
one of the greatest mechanical triumphs of the day. An effort 
was made to secure an appropriation from Congress for build- 
ing such a vessel, but It met with no success. 


Soon after his arrival in Washington with the vessel, Erics- 
son issued this invitation: 

OFF ALEXANDRIA, March. 4, 1853. 

Captain Ericsson requests the pleasure of the Company of the mem- 
bers of the Virginia Legislature on board the new caloric ship HJricsson. 
for the purpose of inspecting the improvements made by this new mode 
of propelling vessels, which will afford facilities to commerce by reduc- 
ing the rates of running ships with motive-power even to that of sailing 

For the purpose of enabling the members of the Legislature to visit 
the vessel with least possible loss of time, Captain Ericsson will cause 
her to be at Acquia Creek either on Monday or Tuesday morning as may 
be most convenient to them, and he will therefore be obliged by answer 
in time to enable him to move the ship from. Alexandria to Acquia 

J. COOK, Clerk. 

The Virginia legislators were entertained by a speech from 
the inventor, 'for he could be eloquent on occasion with the elo- 
quence of earnest conviction and assured mastery of the partic- 
ular subject he discussed. He was not a man of varied knowl- 
edge, or of culture in that sense, but what he did know he 
knew thoroughly, and as the stream of a given volume gains 
additional power by running in a narrow channel, so did the 
concentration of his thought give added force to Ericsson's vig- 
orous personality. He was accustomed to great intensity of 
expression, he had exceedingly clear and positive conceptions 
concerning matters he understood, and was indifferent to every- 
thing else. 

In return for the courtesy shown them, the Virginia Legis- 
lators invited Ericsson to dine with them, but he had left 
Washington before the invitation reached him. He did dine, 
however, at the capital with Washington Irving, who was then 
engaged in researches connected with his work upon the life of 



Sinking of the Ericsson in New York Harbor. It is Raised and Takes 
the Seventh New York Begiment to Bichmond. Its Use during 
the Civil War. Attempts to Apply Hot Air on a Large Scale Aban- 
doned. Its Application to Small Motors. Speculations as to the 
Moral Results to Follow their Adoption. Prince Krapotkin's Opin- 
ion. Large Demand for the Caloric Engine. Its Advantages and 

AFTER the caloric ship returned to New York from Wash- 
ington, it was decided to make changes in her engines to 
increase their efficiency and correct defects revealing themselves 
in actual practice. Ericsson seems to have counted too confi- 
dently on his regenerator, and the heating power was insuf- 
ficient, Blowers were therefore added to force the draft and 
make good the deficiency in the area of grate surface. The 
Ericsson was finally made ready for another trial, and took a 
trip down !New York Bay on March 15, 1854. A second trip 
followed on April 27th ? and the next day Ericsson wrote to 
Mr. Sargent, concerning the results as follows : 

At the very moment of success of brilliant success fate has dealt 
me the severest blow I ever received. We yesterday went out on a private 
preparatory trial of the caloric ship, during which all our anticipations 
were realized. We attained a speed of from twelve to thirteen turns of 
onr paddle- wheels, equal to full eleven miles an hour, without putting 
forth anything like our maximum power. AJ1 went on magnificently 
until within a mile or two of the city (on our return from Sandy Hook), 
when our beautiful ship was struck by a terrific tornado on our larboard 
quarter, careening the hull so far as to put completely under water the 
lower starboarcF ports, which unfortunately the men on the freight deck 
had opened to clear out some rubbish, the day being very .firm, The 
men, so far as we can learn, became terrified and ran on deck without 
dosing the ports, aad the hold filled so rapidly as to sink the s&ip in a 


few minutes. I need not tell you what my feelings were as I watched 
the destructive element entering the fireplaces of the engines, and as 
the noble fabric, yielding under my feet, disappeared inch by inch. A 
more sudden transition from gladness and exultation to disappointment 
and regret is scarcely on record. Two years of anxious labor had been 
brought to a successful close, the finest and strongest ship perhaps ever 
built was gliding on the placid surface of the finest harbor in the world 
and within a few cable lengths of her anchorage ; yet, with such solid 
grounds for exultation, and with such perfect security from danger, a 
freak of the elements effected utter annihilation in the space of a few 

As it was impossible under these circumstances to demon- 
strate the capacity of the vessel, a certificate of her performance 
on the trip that ended thus disastrously was prepared and 
signed by five persons who witnessed it. They united in saying 
that the engines of the vessel were worked up to " twelve turns 
per minute against quite a smart breeze." An average pressure 
of seventeen and one-half pounds was carried in both furnaces, 
and a mean pressure at the time of closing the cut-off valve of 
twelve and one-half pounds per square inch. This gave eleven 
miles an hour through the water, the wheels being thirty-two 
feet in diameter. The excursion being merely preparatory to 
a regular trial trip, the consumption of fuel was not ascertained. 
These witnesses estimated it at a little less than nine tons for 
twenty-four hours. 

In response to Sargent's letter of condolence, Ericsson said 
tc You are quite right in thinking that it takes something more 
to kill me than the sinking of a ship, though it carried down 
the results of twenty years of labor. I am in abundant pin- 
money, having brought out some small inventions kept back 
by the absorbing caloric." 

The same day, May 1st, he wrote : u The ship is up, much 
to the sorrow of numerous wise men who predicted that the 
thing could not be done. Pray present my warm thanks to 
Commodore Smith for the prompt manner in which he ordered 
las officers to put the ship on the Government Dock. Gentle- 
men are so confoundedly scarce in these diggings that it is quite 
refreshing to me to come in contact with the officers of the 
Navy now and then." This was Commodore Joseph E. Smith, 
Chief of the Naval Bureau of Yards and Docks from 1846 to 



1869. Of him we shall hear more in connection with Ericsson's 

After examining the caloric ship, Ericsson reported on the 
19th of May that twelve thousand dollars would be required to 
put her machinery in order. It was finally decided to take out 
her caloric engines and convert her into a steamer. Though the 
economy of fuel in hot-air engines was very considerable, it was 
accompanied by too great a sacrifice of space, and too* great an 
outlay of machinery, to permit competition with the steam- 
engine at its best estate. Each of tl^yFour u regenerators Jy 
of the engines on the caloric ship contained fifty disks of one- 

The Caloric Ship Ericsson. 

sixteenth inch wire netting, each disk measuring six by four 
or twenty-four square feet As the open spaces in each 
disk measured one-half this, or twelve square feet, there was 
no appreciable resistance to the passage of the air to and* from 
the cylinders, Ericsson tells us. But the expansion of the 
air in the supply- cylinders, resulting from the great volume 
of the vessels containing the wires through which the air 
passed, seriously diminished the effect from the working 

After her transformation into a steamer, the Ericsson was 
chartered, in 1858, to carry the Seventh New York Regiment 
to Richmond, Va., on the occasion of transferring to Hollywood 


Cemetery the remains of James Monroe, Ex-President of the 
United States. She was subsequently used during the Civil 
War as a Government transport, and with her four small smoke- 
stacks was conspicuous in the picturesque group of vessels as- 
sembled at the capture of Port Eoyal, S. C., by Commodore S. 
F. Du Pont. After serving as a transport for a time she was 
fitted up with a battery of small guns and sent cruising after a 
Confederate vessel. She was finally converted into a sailer and 
employed by the British Government in carrying coal to one 
of their stations in the Pacific. 

In his Centennial volume (p. 438) Ericsson says of this 
vessel : " The average speed at sea proving insufiicient for 
commercial purposes, the owners, with regret, acceded to my 
proposition to remove the costly machinery, although it had 
proved perfect as a mechanical combination. The resources of 
modern engineering having been exhausted in producing the 
motors of the caloric ship, the important question has forever 
been set at rest: Can heated air as a motor compete on a large 
scale with steam ? The commercial world is indebted to Amer- 
ican enterprise to ]STew York enterprise, for having settled a 
question of such vital importance. The marine engineer has 
thus been encouraged to renew his efforts to perfect the steam- 
engine, without fear of rivalry from a motor depending on 
the dilatation of atmospheric air by heat" 

Though Ericsson was able in after years to speak so philoso- 
phically concerning his defeat in the matter of the caloric ship, 
we may be sure that the experience at the time was most 
bitter and humiliating, ^Nothing better illustrates his energy 
and force of character, and his unfailing confidence in his own 
mechanical conceptions, than the fact that he still continued 
his labors upon his caloric engine. The triumphant assertion 
of Ins friends that " the age of steam had closed ; that of ca- 
loric liad opened," was falsified. He was compelled to submit 
to the gibes of his enemies and the laughter of a world that 
takes no account of efforts whose results are for the future : 
but he was not discouraged. When told that the name of his 
friend and associate in the caloric enterprise, Mr. John B. 
Txitching, stood very low in Lombard Street in consequence of 
his connection with this invention, Ericsson indignantly replied 


that the caloric was " a boon to humanity, and was another step 
in the progress of man ordained by God." 

On April 23, 1853, in a letter to the London Builder, he 
had said : 

The caloric engine is destined ere long, its opponents notwithstand- 
ing, to be the great motor for manufacturing and domestic purposes, be- 
cause of its entire freedom from danger alone. It is destined assuredly 
to effect much in dispensing with physical toil with the laborer. The 
artisan of moderate means may place it in his room, where it will serve 
as a stove while turning his lathe, at the same time purifying the at- 
mosphere by pumping out the impure air and passing it off into the 
chimney. In fine, it will heat, toil, ventilate, and always remain harm- 
less. All this will soon be exhibited in practice and save critics from 
racking their brains to discover theoretical mistakes and practical im- 

The caloric engine was finally made available for many com- 
mercial purposes, but its inventor was obliged to postpone fur- 
ther attempts to supersede steam. The radical vice of all air- 
engines employing a cylinder and piston, is the necessity for 
using very large engines and very high heat in order to se- 
cure the necessary difference of temperature between the two 
sides of the piston. This speedily burns out the machine, as 
iron becomes red hot at 650 C. Lubricants are decomposed, 
packing destroyed, and, by the expansion of the metal, joints are 
loosened and the whole structure weakened. But partial suc- 
cess came only at the end of efforts and struggles on the part 
of Ericsson such as would have discouraged anyone but an in- 
ventor. "What he endured is told in this letter addressed by 
him to his associates in the caloric enterprise, Messrs. Stough- 
ton, Tyler, and Bloodgood, January 16, 1855. 

You will not be surprised to learn that for want of means I have, after 
prolonged struggles, at last been compelled to abandon the prosecution 
of the invention which formed the subject of our several agreements 
four years ago. Whilst I refrain from dwelling on the painful disap- 
pointment I experience in being thus forced to abandon the grand idea 
of the wire system which, together with that peculiarly simple arrange- 
ment of inverted cylinders, formed the principle of the improved caloric 
engine which you joined me in prosecuting, I feel bound emphatically 
to state my conviction that this extraordinary system of obtaining mo- 
tive power will some day be perfected. 


I repeat now what I stated to YOU at our first interview, that on the 
principle of the improved caloric engine under consideration more 
motive power may be obtained from a mess of metallic wires of two 
feet cube than from a whole mountain of coal, as applied in the present 
steam-eiigine. Every experimental trial made has more than realized 
my anticipations as regards the rapidity and certainty of depositing 
and returning the caloric on this remarkable system. The practical 
adaptation alone has presented difficulties. In justice to myself, allow 
me here to remind you that I have had no funds at my disposal for 
making experiments. The large test engine intended for the London 
Exhibition was built in all essential features like my original thirty-inch 
cylinder engine, that being deemed complete, the difference being main- 
ly the application of two pairs of cylinders. The engine of the caloric 
ship, again, was a perfect copy of the large test-engine, differing only 
in size and in having four instead of two pairs of cylinders. The mag- 
nitude of the ship and the consequent heavy responsibility forbade the 
slightest deviation from the engine which had been found to work satis- 
factorily. Accordingly, and most unfortunately, not a single point was 
gained by these undertakings, not a step was made in advance. The 
small engine built at Springfield indeed established an important fact. 
It corroborated my opinion that the inverted single-acting cylinders 
were indispensable to practical success. It has "naturally been supposed 
by the public that I have had ample enormous funds at my disposal 
for making experiments , and hence that the resources of the very prin- 
ciple of the new motor have been exhausted. How utterly at variance 
with fact are these suppositions ! Except as stated in the small Spring- 
field engine, no funds have been expended experimentally, and therefore 
the improved caloric engine, with its inverted cylinders and wire regen- 
erator, this day stands where it did when you first witnessed the opera- 
tion four years ago. But though unavailable for practical purposes it 
yet rests on immutable physical laws which by money, labor, and pa- 
tience will assuredly secure a great boon to mankind. There can be 
little doubt that $50,000, about ten per cent, of the cost of the caloric 
ship, expended in experiments would teach the proper practical appli- 
cation of the wire system to obtain that available force which so far has 
not been properly realized. 

Truth and candor compel me now to notice that during the four 
years in which I have labored unceasingly in a common cause, for a joint 
benefit, I have been left wholly unsupported by those holding the largest 
interest in the patent. I have during that period defrayed expenses 
and incurred liabilities exceeding $30,000 in the prosecution of the 
patents in which I hold very little more than one-fourth interest. I de- 
sire to be distinctly understood not to abandon the invention in which 
we are mutually interested. I only stop for want of funds without 
money I can do nothing, and my only capital is my intellect and my 
time. Try what yon can do. I am ready to work with all my energies. 


Only furnish funds, and we will show practically that bundles of wires 
are capable of exerting more force than ship-loads of coal. 

In the mean time I find myself on the verge of ruin. I must do 
something to obtain bread and vindicate to some extent my assumed posi- 
tion as the opponent of steam. Accordingly I have determined to return 
to my original caloric engine. The plan is less brilliant less startling 
but as it proved to yield power practically twenty years ago, so it will 
again. At any rate, it cannot fail to be sufficiently useful to save its 
author from starving. I am sanguine, you know, and I therefore expect 
confidently to succeed on my old field. If so, I may yet take up the 
invention in which you have an interest, on the principle which compels 
metallic threads to yield more force than mountains of coal. Thus I 
may once more devote individual means and exertions to a common in- 

Thus, with many heartburnings, Ericsson, through force of 
sheer necessity, abandoned his efforts to further develop his 
caloric system as a universal motor to supersede steam. The 
spirit of prophecy was upon him, but he prophesied to deaf 
ears. He believed then, as he had believed for a quarter of a 
century at least, what is now generally accepted, that the dis- 
placement of the steam-engine is essential to future industrial 
progress. To the British Association for the Advancement of 
Science, Sir Frederick Brain well declared, in 1888, that those 
who should attend the centenary of the Association in 1931 
" would see the present steam-engines in museums, treated as 
things to be respected and of antiquarian interest, by the en- 
gineers of those days, such as were the open-topped steam 
cylinders of Neweomen and of Smeaton to ourselves, and that 
the heat engine of the future will probably be one independent 
of the vapor of water." 

Ericsson had not lost the confidence of his friends, not even 
of those whose money had been spent in his caloric ventures thus 
far, and in the end those who continued to assist him had no 
reason to regret their confidence. "With their help he built 
four little engines with 15-inch cylinders, costing $500 or $600 
apiece, and intended for lecture-room models ; an engine of 16- 
inch cylinder, sent to France, and one of thirty indies intended 
for the Crystal Palace Exhibition in New York. Eight other 
models and test engines were built at a cost altogether of 
0, and patents for improvements were issued "dated Joly 


1855, and December 14, 1858. The engines of the steamer 
were covered by a patent issued in 1851. 

Within three years of his announcement to his associates, in 
January, 1855, of his determination to make the caloric engine 
a source of profit, Ericsson's manufacturers were able to report 
that the "caloric engine is no longer a subject of experiment, 
but exists as a perfect, practical machine, daily at work in 
manufactures and diversified uses." By the end of 1857 the 
work of introducing the perfected engine had begun with do- 
mestic motors of 6 and 8-inch cylinders, and seven large estab- 
lishments were at work upon their construction. 

Next came the 12-inch engine. This was an excellent 
pumper and could do light rotary work. It was succeeded by 
the 18-inch cylinder engine with power sufficient to drive two 
or three printing presses. This was followed by the 24-inch 
cylinder, capable of doing most hoisting work and exhibiting 
a a increase of power in excess of the increased consumption of 
fuel. Finally, before the end of 1858, an engine with a 
cylinder of thirty-two inches in diameter was built and set up 
in one of the Government warehouses in New York for hoist- 
ing work. 

Five years before (1853) Ericsson had agreed to build a 
caloric engine of sixty horse-power for the Washington Navy 
Yard, but he does not appear to have been called upon to do 
so. Still earlier than this, in 1848, Mr. Sargent had suggested 
that he should build a fifty horse-power engine for exhibition 
in Washington. To this suggestion he replied : " I must ob- 
serve in regard to the caloric that if I had any confidence in 
justice at Washington I would not hesitate to build the fifty 
horse-power engine, but I well know that I am as likely to be 
cheated as patronized there you know that too." 

A thousand caloric engines were sold within two years, and 
soon more than three thousand were engaged in working printing 
presses, and hoisting-gear for warehouses, docks, and ships ; in 
mines and mills ; for pumping, irrigating land, and supplying 
villages with water; in various operations on farms and plan- 
tations, and in numerous other mechanical employments. If 
it was found inadequate to move a great ocean steamer with 
sufficient speed, it was satisfactorily tested in the propulsion 


of boats and pleasure yachts ; in short, wherever a limited, 
economical, safe, independent, and self-managed motive-power 
was required, Ericsson's caloric engine was in demand. 

The Fitchburg Railroad of Massachusetts reported that a 
caloric engine belonging to them had pumped in one year 
1,600,000 gallons of water at an expense of $25 for fuel and 
oil, and $25 for the time of an engineer. The New York Cen- 
tral Railroad, which had forty-eight of the engines in use, report- 
ed that they performed an u incredible amount " of labor for 
the "small quantity of fuel consumed." One engine, at an ex- 
pense of eleven cents a day, was doing the work of five men 
who received $125 a month, or $5 a day. An attempt was 
made to substitute the caloric engine for the horses then used 
in drawing their cars through the city of New York. The 
New York Evening Post, the Hartford Times, the Dutch Re- 
form Messenger, and forty newspapers altogether, employed 
this motor and sounded its praises the country over. Stimu- 
lated by the interest in caloric, a little paper called T/ie Ericsson, 
and having for its motto " Improve on Improvements," was 
started in 1853, in Fond du Lac, "Wis., then a place of two or 
three thousand inhabitants. 

Caloric engines were also in extensive use on the sugar plan- 
tations in Cuba and in the Southern United States ; they were 
at work abroad in England and Ireland, and especially in Swe- 
den, several establishments in this last country having engaged 
engines under license, the inventor with characteristic generos- 
ity making over the proceeds of his royalties in Sweden to his 
sister living there. 

At the agricultural fair of Ostergothland, the most impor- 
tant province of Sweden, the first prize was awarded, in Janu- 
ary, 1859, to an Ericsson caloric engine. The Swedish journals 
particularly noticed that this engine, in its present efficient form, 
differed altogether from that of the " caloric ship," -and that it 
resembled in essential features the engines elaborated and built 
by Captain Ericsson in London, between the years 1827 and 
1833. A working model of one of these engines was carried 
from London to Stockholm in the spring of 1833, by Colonel 
Nils Ericsson, brother of the inventor. It was pointed ont as a 
remarkable instance of the correctness of first conceptions that 


Captain Ericsson, after spending thirty years of intense labor, 
should find himself just where he started. The striking feat- 
ure of the new engine, aside from the novel principle involved, 
was the mode by which the supply-air was introduced into the 
machine, and in this it was identical with the model engine al- 
luded to. The singular achievement, recognized by engineers, 
of effecting the very dissimilar requisite movements of supply 
and working pistons by one crank-pin dates back to 1833, and 
the idea of placing the fire within, the cylinder was practically 
exemplified by Captain Ericsson in London, as long ago as 

The distinguishing merits of the engine were its economy, 
portability, simplicity, and non-liability to explosion. Added 
to this, is the superior advantage, in certain localities, of requir- 
ing no water. In Texas and California it was used for pur- 
poses of irrigation ; in Louisiana for the operation of cotton- 
gins, on account of the diminished risk of fire and freedom 
from explosion. One caloric engine is reported to have ex- 
ploded in Cuba, but the exact cause of the explosion was never 

The hot air engine was found of special value in lighthouses. 
It required no water, and water is liable to freeze in exposed 
situations and to fail altogether in others. Its freedom from 
the danger of explosion, the ease with which it could be man- 
aged by the ordinary light-keeper, and the service it rendered 
in heating his quarters also commended it to favor, though it 
was more bulky than the steam-engine, and cost fifty per cent, 
more. Ericsson examined carefully into the question of apply- 
ing it to canal boats, but decided that it had too little power in 
proportion to its bulk and weight. 

For similar reasons his plans for using it as a motor for 
horse-cars were not carried out. Its most ingenious application 
was to the work of compressing air so that it could be conveyed 
from a reservoir wherever it was needed. It \vas applied in 
this way by an establishment in ISTew York employing five or 
six hundred hands with sewing-machines. Ericsson was very 
much amused by his experience with a handsome factory girl 
who invited him to a competition. She ran her sewing ma- 
chine with her foot, against the caloric engine, and " me," 


said he, in telling the story, "If she didn't beat me to fits." 
But as his engine could run all day and all night her defeat was 
certain in the end. 

I find no evidence that Ericsson ever gave attention to the 
study of electricity, though he did invent, in 1859, an " improve- 
ment in actuating and regulating the speed of telegraphic in- 
struments " by compressed air, conveyed to the telegraphic in- 
struments in different rooms of a building, . from a central 
motor. " Allow me to remind yon," said Ericsson, in a letter 
to one of his Swedish friends, " that I am an engineer and 
designer rather than an inventor. Is the capacity for con- 
struction gained during the experience of a lifetime, an in- 
vention ? Edison, in his ignorance, discovers or invents ; Erics- 
son, acquainted with physical laws, constructs." This was 
not said in any spirit of disparagement toward Edison, for 
whose talents and accomplishments Ericsson, had the highest 



Receipts for Patent Fees. Beport on the Hot-air Engine by Dr. F. 
A. P. Barnard. Application of the Begenerative Principle by Sir 
William Siemens. Faraday's Continued Faith in It. Its Applica- 
tion to the Steam-engine. Professor E. N. Hereford's Investigation 
of the Caloric Engine. Its Progress During Thirty Years. Erics- 
son Beceives the Bttmford Prize. 

ASIDE from marine motors, Ericsson expended altogether 
about $60,000 upon twenty-five test machines while per- 
fecting the calorie engine. His accounts show that more than 
one-half of this snm was returned in patent fees in a single 
year, after the invention was on the full tide of success. He 
had parted with interests in it from time to time until at length 
he retained only one-half, but his books record the receipt of 
$16,555.21 from this half in I860, after deducting payments 
for the cost of collecting. This shows a total receipt of $35,- 
000 for patent fees during the year, and the price received pre- 
vious to this for partial interests indicates that the patent-right 
as a whole was valued at $100,000. In a letter to Mrs. 
Stoughton, dated October 31, 1870, Ericsson said : " Edwin 
[Mr. Stoughton], daring conversation when he last called at 
36, did me the great injustice of hinting that I c never com- 
plete anything.' TliQ/act is that I never leave an invention 
while anything can be done to it within my power (or within 
the power of man ?). Since he advised me to abandon the ca- 
loric engine I have perfected fifty-six inventions, all carried 
into practice. Upward of three thousand caloric engines have 
been built in the meantime, the patent having yielded more 
than $100,000. Do me the favor to impress all this on the 

of my unjust friend, 3 * 
Tte attempt to apply the hot-air engine to the purpose of 


navigation was economically a failure, but as a means of edu- 
cation to Ericsson it was worth far more than it cost, as the 
sequel will show. Even after this failure was recorded, Robert 
Hunt, F.R.S., in his " Supplement to lire's Dictionary of Arts, 
Manufactures, and Mines," declared that "we may, notwith- 
standing this result, safely predict, from the investigations of 
Messrs. Thomson & Joule, that the expansion of air by heat 
will eventually, in some conditions, take the place of steam as a 
motive power." 

Sir William Siemens told the British Association in Au- 
gust, 1882, that " the gas or caloric engine combines the condi- 
tions most favorable to the attainment of maximum results, and 
it may reasonably be supposed that the difficulties still in the 
way of their application on a large scale will gradually be re- 
moved." " Before many years have elapsed," he said further, 
"we may find in our factories and on board our ships engines 
with a fuel consumption not exceeding one pound of coal per 
effective horse-power per hour, in which the gas-producer takes 
the place of the somewhat complex and dangerous steam-boiler. 
The advent of such an engine, and of the dynamo machine, 
must mark a new era of material progress at least equal to that 
produced by the introduction of steam-power in the early part 
of our century. 55 

Sir William spoke from experience, for he had spent many 
years of his life in seeking to apply the regenerative principlfe 
which so fascinated Ericsson, and was a firm believer in its ef- 
fectiveness. Commencing his studies into the application of 
heat fifteen years after Ericsson, he had the advantage of the 
sounder theories concerning its nature established by the in- 
vestigations of Joule in England and Mayer in Germany, 
during the years from 1842 to 1849. Siemens contended that 
Ericsson's partial failure with his respirator or "regenerator" 
was due to a mistake in its application, resulting from an accept- 
ance of the mistaken theory of the nature of heat, current at 
that time, and a consequent neglect to provide sufficient heating 
apparatus. This is also the explanation of Dr. Frederick A. 
P. Barnard, LL.D., late president of Columbia College, New 
York. Speaking of Ericsson's early engine, with the a regene- 
rator," Dr. Barnard says : 


" The engine, it will be seen, was remarkably simple in con- 
struction. It also performed very well in practice, so far as its 
performance was merely a question of mechanics. But it 
failed because the heating arrangements were inadequate to the 
demand made upon them. Mr. Ericsson did not expect to be 
dependent on his furnaces for the supply of more than a mod- 
erate fraction of the heat which each successive charge of air 
was to receive. It was his anticipation that the regenerators 
would serve to transfer so large a quantity from each charge to 
the next that it would be necessary to provide for a little more 
than the always inevitable loss by mere radiation. This antici- 
pation was not realized and in fact could not be, since no ac- 
count was taken of the large amount of heat necessarily trans- 
ferred into work." * 

At the time of his invention of the hot-air engine Ericsson 
held the opinion that equal increments of heat produced equal 
increments of power, whatever the medium used, and that the 
resulting force suffers no diminution ; so that the effects may be 
reproduced indefinitely by transfer from one medium to another, 
or from one portion of the same medium to another portion. 
TThatever the loss of heat in an engine from radiation and con- 
duction there was, according to this theory, no loss from the ex- 
ertion of power. Rumford's experiment in boiling water with 
heat generated by friction dates back to 1T98, but the doctrine 
of the mutual convertibility of heat and mechanical action, or 
of heat as a mode of motion, was only gradually establishing 
itself while Ericsson's thoughts were occupied with his inven- 
tions, and it was not until 1862 that Professor Tyndall com- 
menced the series of lectures that did so much to make the 
theory generally known. 

In a paper read before the London Institution of Civil En- 
gineers, session of 1883-84, on " Heat and its Mechanical Appli- 
cation," Professor Fleemiug Jenkin, F.R.S., said of Sir William 
Siemens: "The fact that such a man spent so many ; years of 
his life in endeavoring to adapt the regenerator to the internal 
combustion engine served to show, what I believe to be certain- 

* Paris Universal Exposition, 1867, Machinery and Processes of the Indus- 
trial Arts and Apparatus of the Exact Sciences. By Frederick A. P. Barnard, 
LL.D., tT. S. Commissioner. 


ly the truth, that in that idea lies the future of internal com- 
bustion in general ; that by the application of the regenerator 
we shall be able to so much lower the temperature of rejec- 
tion as in a marked manner to increase the efficiency of the 

The fact that such a man as Ericsson gave so many years 
of his life to the study of this expedient, and that he believed 
in it to the end, has equal significance. 

Sir William Siemens applied the regenerative principle to 
the steatn engine, taking out his first patent for his improve- 
ments in this line December 22, 1847. His biographer tells us 
that he did not claim the regenerative principle as an original 
discovery, but " it was looked upon by engineers as unsound in 
principle, and its application had very little beneficial result. 
Mr. Siemens saw not only its theoretical correctness, but its 
great practical value, and the wide success it afterward at- 
tained fully justified his views. The regenerative principle 
was undoubtedly sound, and he had devoted ten or twelve of 
the best years of his life to its application. During this time 
he had the support of many eminent engineers, the practical 
aid of two of the best manufacturing firms in the country, and 
the funds of a powerful commercial association. Neither theo- 
retical knowledge, iior practical experience, nor ingenuity, nor 
skill, nor money, nor perseverance, nor influence was wanting. 
But in spite of their promised advantages, the regenerative 
steam-engine would not supplant the simple machine of "Watt." * 

The final result was the application of the Siemens regener- 
ative furnace to mechanical operations, for which a high tem- 
perature is required, such as smelting and glass and pottery 

During the years of experimental research devoted to this 

improved engine, Siemens met with the difficulties that had 

assailed Ericsson in the way of " leaks, destruction of working 

parts, undue consumption of fuel, imperfect action and so on." 

In the Siemens' regenerator the exhaust steam deposits its heat, 

to be taken up by the cold water on its way from the condenser 

to the " hot well." It was found that the gases escaping from 

the furnace at a temperature of 4,000 P. could be cooled 

* Life of Sir William Siemens. By William Pole. Vol. L, p. 79. 



down in a regenerator to between 200 and 400. Siemens 
provides for the passage of heated vapor, or vapor and steam, 
and atmospheric air through regenerators of fire brick laid 
with open spaces. Of his furnace Dr. Siemens said : " The 
greatest heat that can be produced by direct combustion of 
coke and air is about 4,000 F. But with my regenerative fur- 
nace I should have no difficulty in going up to 10,000, in fact, 
to any degree the material composing the furnace can be made 
to stand." 

The most intense terrestrial combustion that we can com- 
mand, Professor Tyndall tells us, is that of oxygen and hydro- 
gen, and the temperature of the pure oxy-hydrogen flame is 
8,001 C.=14,542 F. The sun Siemens considered to be a gi- 
gantic specimen of one of his own regenerative gas furnaces. 
He likened its action to that of a centrifugal blowing fan, 
revolving with enormous velocity and drawing in upon its polar 
surfaces the gaseous matters circulating in a highly attenuated 
state in space ; subjecting them to enormous friction and ex- 
pelling them at the solar equator at a temperature estimated by 
Ericsson at 4.035.584: F., to commence anew the cycle of 

The entrance of Siemens upon a line of investigation fol- 
lowed by Ericsson fifteen years before him is interesting testi- 
mony to the fascinations of the regenerative theory. Michael 
Faraday seems never to have lost faith in it, for the last lecture 
he ever delivered was on the Siemens regenerative furnace. 
This was June 20, 1862, or nearly thirty years after his at- 
tention had first been directed to the principle involved in it by 
Ericsson's invention of 1833. As early as 1838 Ericsson had 
conducted a series of experiments with a view to adapting the 
regenerative principle to the steam-engine, as Siemens did later 
on. Though the result hoped for was not accomplished, it was 
found that most valuable use could be made of the heat then 
wasted in condensing the steam, and the surface condenser 
was the result. The latest patent for this was taken out in the 
United States in 1849, and it is described in Ericsson's " Con- 
tributions to the Centennial Exhibition," chapter xxix. 

The extent to which the efficiency of the marine engine has 
been increased by this device is illustrated by an example 


quoted by Mr. W. T. Harvey, before the Engineering Section 
of the Bristol, England, Naturalists' Society, showing that a 
vessel, the Juno, saved nine and a half tons of coal per voyage, 
or nine per cent., by a change from a jet condenser to the sur- 
face condenser, the engines working at the same pressure, thirty 
pounds, indicating the same horse-power, 1605, and making the 
same speed, 14.1 knots. 

In 1887 the German Bureau of Statistics estimated the 
power of steam-engines then at work as the equivalent of forty- 
six million horses or a thousand million men, double the work- 
ing population of the earth. Four-fifths of this power has 
been brought into action during the last quarter of a century, 
or since Ericsson terminated his labors upon the caloric engirxe. 
In his "Contributions" (p. 4AB) Ericsson tells us that "steam 
engineers, finding by the extraordinary demand for caloric 
engines that very moderate power was a great desideratum, 
have perfected the steam-motor until it almost rivals the ca- 
loric engine in safety and adaptability ; consequently, the 
demand for caloric engines has been greatly diminished of late. 
Yet this motor can never be superseded by the steam-en- 
gine, since it requires no water, besides being absolutely safe 
from explosion. There are innumerable localities in which an 
adequate quantity of water cannot be obtained, but where the 
necessities of civilized life call for mechanical motors; hence 
the caloric engine may be regarded as an institution insepar- 
able from civilization." 

In a letter written to Professor E. N". Horsford, then Kum- 
ford Professor in Harvard University, Ericsson said : 

NEW YORK, January 19, 1861. 

SIB : Tour letter to Mr. Sargent, -which indicates that you are in- 
vestigating the origin and development of the caloric engine, induces 
me to present to you the enclosed table relating to the compression of 
atmospheric air. The relations of volume, temperature, and pressure 
expressed in this table you will find somewhat different from the result 
of Begnault's and Joule's investigations on the subject I 'will not 
question the theoretical accuracy of their deductions but I claim that 
my table, as it records what actually takes place during compression on 
a large scale, is of more value to practical engineering. It is proper to 
add that the leading facts exhibited in this table were established by 
the writer long before the commencement of the investigation of the 


distinguished savants alluded to. The trial of the caloric engine 'of 
1833 clearly proved that a compression of ten pounds to the square 
inch above the atmospheric pressure caused an elevation of temperature 
of more than 80. At that time, you will remember, Dalton's theory 
prevailed, which admitted only 50 increase of temperature for reducing 
atmospheric air to half volume. It is proper further to observe that 
the inclosed table, which I request that you will do me the honor to ac- 
cept, is founded on actual results produced by long-continued compres- 
sion with cylinders varying from thirty to one hundred and thirty-eight 
inches diameter. 

I annex a very brief explanation, as you will comprehend the nat- 
ure of the table at a glance. 

I am, sir, with great respect, your obedient servant, 



Tracing the progress of the caloric engine during a period 
of thirty years, from its first suggestion to the final completion 
of the work upon it in 1858, we find that it originated in the 
flame engine, described in the paper sent to the Institution of 
Civil Engineers, London, in theyear 1827. This had two cylinders 
with a piston in each cylinder. In 1837 a fly-wheel and re- 
generators were added, and in 1839 two pistons were put into 
one cylinder, one a supply piston and the other a working 
piston, and a device was added for compressing the air at the 
instant of its passage from the supply cylinder to be heated. 
Next, through a series of experimental engines, the grand thirty- 
inch engines of the caloric ship were evolved. In 1855 the 
supply piston was changed so as to work in equilibria at the 
time when the working piston was nearly stationary, and 
in 1856 was added the quickened motion at the conclusion of 
the inward stroke of the supply piston. Finally, in 1858, 
came a device to keep the lubricated surface of the cylinder 
at a temperature below that at which the oil suffers injury, by 
turning upon it an alternating blast of cold air. Thus was an- 
swered the objection that the hot-air engine could never be 
made successful because of the impossibility of securing the 
lubricants from destruction. The ingenious combination of 
movements in this engine so excited the admiration of Pro- 
fessor Horsford as to lead him to say: "It is difficult to con- 
ceive of a higher theoretical and mechanical triumph." 


The engine consisted of a single horizontal cylinder. To 
one end of this fire was applied, and at the other end were two 
pistons alternately approaching and receding from each other, 
in such a manner as to produce internal pressure during the 
outward stroke of the outer piston. Both pistons were con- 
nected to the same crank-pin, and the peculiar and contrary 
motions of the two pistons were produced by lever movements. 
The solution of the problem of imparting motion to the two 
pistons required compliance with nine distinct conditions^ and 
the result was one of the most remarkable mechanical concep- 
tions of our time. u It is as impossible," said Professor Horsf ord, 
" to go into detail with each of Captain Ericsson's air engines 
as it would be to review the discussions of the caloric engine in 
which Ericsson, Kankine, Joule, jSTapier, Eegnault, Barnard, Nor- 
ton and a crowd of other writers, French, German, English, and 
American, have taken part. Xo one who comprehends the 
action of Stirling's earlier engine, or of Ericsson's of 1833 
or 1837 which, with the regenerator attached, would do an 
amount of duty to which it was utterly inadequate with the 
regenerator detached ; or of the action of the caloiic engine of 
1858, or of Wilcox's, which with the escape and supply ports 
closed, and the air of the working cylinder returned alternately 
to and received from the supply cylinder, will run for a long 
time after the fire has been withdrawn can now doubt, that 
upon the main point, the function of the regenerator, the claim 
of Ericsson had been sustained." 

Wilcox's engine was a reproduction, in 1859-60, with some 
modification in details, of Ericsson's engine of 1837 with fly- 
wheel and regenerator. The earlier caloric engine of 1833 was 
the first of a series on the different plan of alternately heating 
and cooling a body of compressed air without the use of a re- 
generator. " In comparing the earlier with the later engines," 
said Professor Horsf ord, " there is a marked development of 
the capabilities of the principle, and corresponding progress in 
invention." * 

* These quotations are from the address accompanying the presentation "by 
the American Academy of Arts and Sciences of the Rumford premium of a 
gold and silver medal ** awarded to John Ericsson for his improvement in the 
management of heat, particularly as shown in his caloric engine of 1858.'* 


If Ericsson's caloric engine did not realize all his sanguine 
expectations, it certainly accomplished a great work, and its in- 
ventor had the satisfaction of knowing that he alone had met 
with any considerable success in the attempt, so frequently 
made during the previous half century, to substitute another 
motor for the steam-engine. Canada, by a special act of Par- 
liament, granted Ericsson the privilege of a patent for his ca- 
loric engine, " as if the said John Ericsson had been a subject of 
Her Majesty, and resident of this province." In announcing 
the result in a letter from Toronto, May 21, 1861, a friend 
said : " In the passing of this bill nothing gave me more pleas- 
ure than the just tribute paid to your talents and energy. The 
Legislature generally is opposed to special legislation, and have 
made an exception in your case. I do not hesitate to say that 
no other man would have obtained it but yourself, and the 
ground of it was your untiring zeal in the cause of science, 
and the great benefit the whole world derive from the exer- 
cise of your talent and energy. For once, at any rate, merit 
has carried the day." 

In his address in 1888, before the British Association, al- 
ready referred to, Sir Frederick Bramwell said : 

The working of beat engines without the intervention of water, by 
the combustion of gases arising from coal and water, is now not merely 
an established fact, but a recognized and undoubted commercially eco- 
nomical means of obtaining motive power. Such engines, developing 
from one to forty horse-power, and worked by ordinary gas supplied by 
gas-mains, are in most extensive use in printing-works, hotels, clubs, 
theatres, and even in large private houses, for the working of dynamos 
to supply electric light. But, looking at the wonderful petroleum indus- 
try, and at the multifarious products which are obtained from the crude 
materials, is it too much to say that there is a future for motor-engines 
worked by the vapor of some of the more highly volatile of these pro- 
ducts true vapor not a gas, but a condensable body capable of being 
worked over and over again ? Numbers of such engines, some of as 
much as four horse-power, are now running, and are apparently giving 
good results certainly excellent results as regards the compactness and 
lightness of the machinery. 

Ericsson, was a pioneer in this field, and his caloric engine 
opened the way for the coming revolution, not only by its direct 
agency, but still more effectively in the way that most useful in- 


ventions accomplish their object, by stimulating further invert 
tion and suggesting improvement in the line of the original 
investigation. In spite of the wonders accomplished by modern 
machinery, serious and well-founded objections are urged against 
it on ethical grounds, for its tendency is to destroy the individ- 
ual initiative and to lessen independence of character. For 
thousands of little work-shops, each the centre of moral in- 
fluences out of which have developed our best types of citizen- 
ship, we have substituted a single great manufactory where the 
principle of the interchangeability of parts is applied to the 
artisan as well as to his products. Each workman is one of a 
thousand, so shaped to pattern that any one may be substituted 
for any other. The factor of individuality, so essential to man- 
ly development, is thus, so far as possible, eliminated. 

No man understood this tendency of modern mechanical 
development better than Ericsson. u The close observer of 
labor-saving machines," he said,* " is well aware that of late 
years the legitimate bounds have been passed, and that we are 
rapidly encountering the dangers of intellect-saving machines, 
by introducing mechanical devices for effecting everything 
which hitherto has been the result of the healthful combination 
of intellect and muscular effort. At this moment hundreds of 
thousands of human beings are employed in working a treadle 
or turning a crank, vacant spectators of what their muscles ef- 
fect ; not the least tax on their intellect. Unfortunately, the 
number of persons thus occupied is being augmented with a 
rapidity only known to those who study the records of mechan- 
ical invention. It is needless to speculate on the effect upon 
our race which this dispensing with intellect, and the substitu- 
tion of monotonous muscular labor, will produce in course of 
time. The evil is manifest. 

" It will be asked, ' is there no remedy ? ' A motor of such 
properties that it can follow the thousand mechanic denizens 
into their corners would obviously meet the difficulty. It is 
claimed that the caloric engine possesses these properties. It 
works as well when made to exert the power of one man as 
that of twenty. It is actuated by the air of the surrounding 
atmosphere and requires no engineer ; it can be managed by 
* Letter to tne editor of the London Times, May 23, 1860. 


any person of common intelligence ; is wholly free from dan- 
ger ; the cost of fuel which it consumes amounts to less than 
five per cent, of the manual labor employed to exert equal 
force." Again he says: "The steam-engine requires water, 
which prevents its use in millions of instances in which we want 
motors to relieve human drudgery. We cannot trust that dan- 
gerous agent to the care of our wives and children, but the ca- 
loric engine we safely may. We can turn the key to the room 
which contains it, and the humble artisan may, without appre- 
hension, ply his tool while this harmless servant turns the 
crank and cooks his food." 

Five years later, when his triumphs in other fields had 
made his name universally known, Ericsson said (November, 
1865) : " The satisfaction with which I place my head on the 
pillow at night, conscious of having through my little caloric 
engine conferred a great boon on mankind though the full 
importance of that boon will not be understood until the lapse 
of perhaps another century is far greater than any satisfaction 
the production of an engine of war can give. 5 ' 

" The division and subdivision of functions," says Prince 
Krapotkin, one of the most conspicuous representatives of the 
modern socialistic element, " have been pushed so far as to 
divide humanity into castes almost as firmly established as 
those of old India. First the broad division into producers 
and consumers ; little-consuming producers on the one hand, 
little-producing consumers on the other hand. Then amid 
the former, a series of subdivisions, the manual worker and 
the intellectual worker, sharply separated ; and agricultural 
laborers and workers in manufactures. Amid little-producing 
consumers are numberless minute subdivisions, the modern 
ideal of a workman being a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, 
without the knowledge of any handicraft, having no conception 
whatever of the industry in which lie or she is employed, and 
only capable of making all day long and for a whole life, the 
same infinitesimal part of something; from the age of thirteen 
to that of sixty pushing the coal cart at a given spot of the 
mine, or making the spring of a penknife, or the eighteenth 
part of a pin. The working classes have become mere ser- 
vants to same machine of a given description ; mere flesh-and- 


bone parts to some immense machinery ; having no idea about 
how or why the machinery is performing its rhythmical move- 
ments. Skilled artisanship is swept away as a survival of the 
past which is condemned to disappear. For the artist who for- 
merly found aesthetic enjoyment in the work of his hands, is 
substituted the human slave of an iron slave." 

It was against this tendency, constituting so great a danger 
to modern society, that Ericsson struggled, and with intelligent 
purpose, as the letter I have quoted shows. He had a profound 
sense of the dignity of labor ; his early years had been spent 
among working people, and those of the very best class; and 
though he found but little leisure for the polite interchanges of 
"society" and had as little taste for them, his heart and his 
hand were always open to " plain people." 

One hundred years ago when Benjamin Thompson was 
made a Count of the " Holy Roman Empire" he chose for his ti- 
tle the name of the place, Rumford (now Concord), N. H., from 
which he fled sixteen years before to escape the coat of tar and 
feathers in preparation for him, because of his supposed hostil- 
ity to the local sentiment of opposition to the rule of England. 
Among the numerous proofs he gave of magnanimous forget- 
fulness of this episode in his history is to be numbered the 
gift of $5,000 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 
to found a prize, bearing his name, for the most important dis- 
coveries in light and heat. 

Though the prize was founded in 1796, it was not until forty- 
three years after that the Academy, in 1 839, found anyone who 
was in its judgment worthy of the award. Then the gold 
and silver Rumford medals were bestowed upon Robert Hare, 
of Philadelphia, whose subsequent wanderings in the unscien- 
tific ways of spiritualism have not diminished his earlier credit 
as a chemist and philosopher. To Hare, the prize was granted 
in recognition of his invention of the oxy-hydrogen blow-pipe, 
and his improvement in galvanic apparatus. Another interval of 
twenty-three years elapsed before it was proposed to bestow the 
prize a second time, though the fund had meantime increased 
to nearly thirty thousand dollars, and a still larger sum, the pro- 
ceeds of its investment, had been expended, under authority of 
the State Court, in ways not contemplated in the original gift. 


In 1860 the subject of bestowing the Eumford prize upon 
John Ericsson was brought to the attention of the Acad- 
emy. The question as to his title to it was referred to the 
standing committee of the Academy having this matter in 
charge. At the five hundred and sixth meeting of the Acad- 
emy, held two years later, April 6, 1862, Joseph Levering, 
Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at 
Harvard College, from a majority of the Eumford Commit- 
tee presented the following report : 

The Eumford Committee, having examined the subject of hot-air en- 
gines, and the recent improvement in their construction made in Amer- 
ica, ask leave to report as follows : 

The Bumford Committee does not recommend that the Academy 
should award the Bumford premium for the alleged recent improve- 
ments of Mr. Ericsson in the hot-air engine, nor for his engine as at 
present constructed. 


CAMBRIDGE, April 8, 1862. 

On behalf of himself and Daniel Treadwell, a former Rum- 
ford Professor 3 E. 1ST. Horsford, presented the following : 

The minority of the Bumford report : 

That they dissent from the opinion of the majority, in that they be- 
lieve the improvements in the caloric engine of Mr. Ericsson which he 
brought out in 1858 are such as to entitle him to the Bumford Medal. 

They see the evidence of high inventive talent, of patient thought 
and prolonged and persevering experimental research, in the practical 
solution on a large scale of the various problems underlying the hot- 
air engine, especially in the compact arrangement of the supply and 
working pistons, the telescopic tube, the fire-pot and the regenerator in 
a single cylinder, thereby economizing heat and space ; in the device 
for protecting the lubricating material of the packing of the working 
piston, by exposing it at each stroke to the current of entering cold air ; 
and in the system of cranks, rock-shafts, bars and their connecting rods 
by which the varied, complicated, but necessary motions of the supply 
and working pistons are regulated and connected with each other and 
the fly-wheel. 

The minority recommend that the Bumford Medal be awarded to 
Mr. Ericsson for his improvements in the management of heat, particu- 
larly as shown in his air engine of 1858. 


CAMBRIDGE, April 8, 1862. 


Thus were two professors of mathematics, one of Harvard 
and the other of the ISTaval Academy, arid one physician, ar- 
rayed in judgment against two Rumford Professors, both cele- 
brated for inventive capacity and experience. Who should 
decide ? The two reports were received and the question of 
choosing between them was discussed by their authors, the 
merits of the hot-air engine being the subject of controversy. 
The discussion was continued at an adjourned meeting on April 
22, 1862, and again at a meeting held May 13th, when Professor 
Louis Agassiz, Drs. Jacob Bigelow and Charles Pickering of 
Boston, Benjamin Peirce, Professor of Astronomy and Mathe- 
matics at Harvard, and Messrs. "Washburn and Guy joined in 
the discussion. This controversy between practical invention 
and theoretical criticism was so earnest and determined that 
it was decided to refer the question to the annual meeting 
for settlement. Finally, at an adjourned annual meeting, held 
on June 1, 1862, on motion of Professor Horsford, seconded 
by Professor Tread well, this resolution was finally adopted : 

Resolved that the Rumford premium be awarded to John B.* 
Ericsson for his improvements in the management of heat, particularly 
as shown in his caloric engine of 1858. 

The account here given of the award of the Humf ord Medal 
to John Ericsson in 1862 somewhat anticipates this event in 
the order of chronology, yet it belongs naturally to a period 
occupied with studies destined to be laid aside for a time, and 
only for a time, in deference to the demands of the most im- 
perative public obligations. 

* The resolution is thus recorded in. the published minutes of the Acad- 



Ericsson's Associates and Friends. His Interest in European Politics. 
He Meets with an Accident. Submits to a Surgical Operation. 
His Physical Condition. His Acquaintance with Professor J. J. 
Mapes. His Favorite Authors. His Mathematical and Linguis- 
tic Acquirements. His Belations with Mr. Delamater. Personal 
Anecdotes. His Physical Vigor. Hopes to Live a Century. 

WREN we pass beyond the limits of Ericsson's workshop, 
we find very little to record concerning his movements 
during the twenty years succeeding his removal to New York, 
in November, 1839. For a portion of this time his associate, 
Mr. John O. Sargent, was residing in Washington, and inter- 
course with him was maintained by a correspondence devoted 
chiefly to the dry details of business. Succeeding Mr. Sargent 
as Ericsson's legal adviser came Mr. Edwin Wallace Stoughton, 
whose connection with the important patent cases of Goodyear 
and others, soon after his admission to the bar in 1840, had 
brought him into prominence in this line of practice. The ac- 
quaintance with Mr. Stoughton, begun in 1850, continued until 
his death in 1882. Ericsson's accounts show that Mr. Stough- 
ton not only invested to a moderate extent in his caloric ven- 
tures but helped him to tide over some of his pecuniary diffi- 
culties while at work on his hot-air engine in 1855-56. Their 
relations, originally those of attorney and client, extended 
to personal friendship and social intercourse. Mr. Stonghtoii 
was fond of his joke, and though Ericsson was less given to 
jesting himself, he enjoyed humor in others, and when they 
were together a jolly laugh would upon occasion well up from 
the depths of the capacious lungs that filled his expansive 
chest. He would occasionally drop in upon Mr. and Mrs. 
Stoughton for an evening's chat. European politics were 
among the topics of discussion during the Crimean war, and he 
gave vigorous expression to the sympathy he felt, in common 


with his countrymen, in the efforts of the allies to weaken the 
power of Russia. As Ericsson was a Knight of the Order of 
V^sa he was familiarly spoken of by the Stoughtons as " Sir 
John," and among his letters are found numerous notes from 
Mr. Stoughton thus addressed. That he occasionally respond- 
ed in the same vein is shown by this letter : 

" Sir John Ericsson " presents his compliments to Lord Counsellor 
Stoughton, and regrets inexpressibly that previous engagement will 
prevent his having the honor of meeting the Judges of the Court of Ap- 
peal, Tuesday next. 

If anything could add poignancy to the regret which Sir John feels 
at being prevented from putting his feet under the mahogany more 
properly the oak of the Lord Counsellor, it is the fact that such a rare 
selection of the Learned's feet will be under the same on this momen- 
tous occasion. 

HASH SQUAKE, April 6, 1867. 


Sometimes Ericsson would take a Thanksgiving dinner 
with his friends, the Stoughtons, and this New England festi- 
val appears to have been the only one that received his hom- 
age. It was on Thanksgiving day in 1854: that he lost the 
second finger of his right hand while superintending some work 
at the Delamaters 5 , and he had, ever after, a superstition con- 
cerning the observance of the day. If, as sometimes happened, 
he lost sight of the calendar it was only necessary for his sec- 
retary to hold up an admonitory finger with " Remember, 
Captain ! " and the answer came promptly, " True, I forgot ; no 
work on Thanksgiving." On the day he found such occasion to 
remember, Ericsson was overseeing some work at Delamater's. 
Noticing one of the men reaching forth to steady a vibrating con- 
necting-rod, he shouted, " Be careful ! you will lose your hand ! " 

Involuntarily his own hand went out, and his finger dropped 
upon the floor. Picking it up, the owner turned to his friend, 
Delamater, who stood by, exclaiming, " See, Harry, what I have 
done ! " Dropping the severed finger into his pocket, and ty- 
ing a piece of tape around the stump to stop the hemorrhage, 
he got into a carriage, drove home, and sent for a surgeon. 
When the doctor came a further amputation was found necessary. 
Refusing to take ether, the wounded man held out his maimed 
hand, and calmly looked on while the surgeon operated. 


That evening, a friend, Professor Mapes, called, alarmed by 
the reports he had received of the accident He found Erics- 
son busied at his drawing-board with the pencil in his left 
hand. Answering the anxious inquiries concerning his condi- 
tion, he said, quietly, "I expect to be obliged to use my left 
hand hereafter, and thought it best to commence practising 
with it." 

This anticipation, was, fortunately, not realized, for the 
hand did its owner good service for thirty -five years longer. 

About this time Ericsson was greatly disturbed by the ap- 
pearance of an angry swelling on the right-hand side of his jaw. 
This proved to be a malignant pustule. The physicians con- 
sulted agreed in the opinion that an operation was necessary, 
but to this Ericsson objected because of the disfigurement that 
would result, declaring that he would much rather die than be 
so scarred. Finally, a young doctor was found who was confi- 
dent of his ability to cure without the knife. This was Dr. 
Thomas M. Markoe, then an assistant of Dr. Delafield, of New 
York, and since one of the best-known practitioners in New 
York. Dr. Markoe's treatment resulted so satisfactorily that 
his patient soon recovered, and he naturally conceived a warm 
regard for the young physician. 

The partner of Mr. Stoughton was Mr. William Dodge, the 
son-in-law of Ericsson's old friend, Professor James J. Mapes, 
and the husband of Mrs. Mary Mapes Dodge, the editor of the 
St. Nicholas Magazine, New York. Professor Mapes was an 
inventor, as well as chemist of reputation, and a civil engineer 
holding high rank as an expert in patent cases. The acquain- 
tance with him began soon after Ericsson's removal from Eng- 
land, and their relations were cordial and intimate. 

The professor's house was one of the very few where the 
busy engineer was accustomed to visit, and he was a favorite in 
the household, the children running to meet him when his well- 
known ring was heard at the door. By the family of Professor 
Mapes Ericsson is remembered as a most genial and kindly 
man, who had an exceptional faculty for interesting himself in 
what interested others. Professor Mapes was accustomed to 
propound to him his chemical theories, especially one he held 
concerning the " progression of the primaries," and for this at 


least lie always found a sympathetic listener in Ericsson, and 
one whose quick apprehension and intelligent comment were of 
service in clarifying his own ideas. Ericsson being a foreigner 
by birth, his thorough command of English, and his exact use 
of words and terms was a subject of remark. It could hardly 
be otherwise, however, with a man so precise in all things, after 
a daily experience for over twenty-five years with a language 
lie had learned in his youth. 

When Professor M apes changed his residence to Newark, 
N. J., Ericsson extended his visits to that place, a rare instance 
upon his part of enterprise in the line of social accomplish- 
ment. His calls were usually made on Sunday afternoon, and 
he was fond of discussing philosophy with Professor Mapes, 
who was accustomed to say that Ericsson was the only man of 
whose intellectual ability he stood in awe. The professor con- 
sidered himself an adept in mathematics, but acknowledged his 
master iu Ericsson, who was one of the few in New York at 
that day familiar with the " Mecanique Celeste " of La Place. 
Two copies of La Place's great work were to be found in Erics- 
son's library ; one a five-volume edition in the original French, 
published "An VIP' (1797), when the author was a plain citi- 
zen of the Republic, the other Bowditch's translation, pub- 
lished in 1829, and bearing the name o " Marquis de La 
Place" on the title-page. The last was Ericsson's working 
copy, and it shows the marks of study, it being his custom to 
underscore what he wished to recall, with a red or black lead- 
pencil and mark a reference to it on the fly-leaf. 

Ericsson also kept among his favorite authors Bishop Hors- 
ley's edition of Sir Isaac Newton's complete works, the first 
two volumes printed in 1779. The treatise "Philosophise Nat- 
uralis Principia Mathematica" in the third volume was one of 
his favorite studies, and he always found delight in reading it. 
In the fourth volume he has marked some of Newton's obser- 
vations on the nature of light, and his declaration of the ab- 
surdity of the theory of innate gravity, and more especially the 
discourse on light and color. In this Newton declares that 
though he has argued the corporeity of light, it was " without 
any absolute positiveness." Under this statement Ericsson has 
drawn a line in red pencil and appended to his reference to 


several pages he has marked along the margin the words " very 
interesting." JSTewton's remarks concerning the propagation of 
light by vibrations in the ether attracted his particular atten- 
tion, for the reason that he had some theories of his own con- 
cerning the ethers, holding that there were several. On this 
subject he used to engage in lively discussions with Professor 
Mapes. Ericsson was a most entertaining talker upon any sub- 
ject that occupied his attention, and he was unusually fluent 
in speech, few men exceeding him in rapidity of utterance. 
He read French but could not speak it. He knew something 
of Spanish and Greek and could get along in these languages 
with the help of a dictionary. That he had some knowl- 
edge of German is indicated by this extract from a letter to 
Mr. Epes Sargent concerning a translation by his brother, 
Ericsson's special friend : 

MY DEAK SARGENT: The great poet having kindly forwarded his 
"Last Knight " I am going to discharge the pleasing duty of thanking 
and complimenting him. The knowledge of the German displayed in 
his translation amazes me. I have "Der letzte Bitter" before me and 
find with admiration that in description yonr brother actually excels the 
original ; but as German sentiment cannot be rendered into English, 
the spiritual part falls a little short, though not much. John has im- 
mortalized himself. 

Ericsson's library was limited to a few hundred volumes, 
nearly all on scientific and professional subjects ; the three or 
four novels appearing among them had evidently strayed out 
of place or belonged to some assistant, hungering for a bit of 
fiction to relieve so much grim reality. His reading was al- 
most entirely confined to works connected with his special 
studies, the leading engineering and scientific periodicals, and 
two or three Swedish papers. Speaking once of the journals 
-he received from Sweden, he said : "It is a perfect enjoyment 
to read, in my leisure moments, these papers. I always feel 
then as if I were in my dear Sweden. You don't know, per- 
haps, that I never read Swedish books." 

Captain Ericsson disliked to be called a mathematician, 
though he was proud of the title of geometrician. He was ac- 
customed to say that the ordinary mathematician had no rea- 
soning power, or he would not disguise his processes in symbols 



that nobody but one of his own class could understand. It was 
his theory that articles upon mechanical subjects should be so 
written that a school-boy could understand them. The symbols 
are only required in the process of the higher mathematics, 
such as those of astronomy. A letter addressed to one of his 
clients by Ericsson shows at once his methods of calculation 
and his opinion upon the subject of confusing ideas with sym- 
bols. He said : 

NEW YORK, September 12, 1864. 

MY DEAB SER : -The proper thickness of a square cast iron plate will 
be obtained by the following ; 

Multiply the side in feet (or decimals of a foot) by of the pressure 
in pounds, and divide by 850 times the side in inches. The quotient is 
the square of the thickness in inches. 

3,600Qx301b. = 

108,000 = 27>000 

5 x 27,000 = 

= 2.64 

thickness of a square plate 
60 x 60" with 30 Ib. press- 

5 feet. 
850 x 60 = 51,000 

For circidar plate. 

Multiply |i of the diameter in feet by of the pressure on the plate 
in pounds. Divide by 850 times H of the diameter in inches. 

5 x 11 = 3.92 x 21,202 = 83,111 = 2.02 V 2.02 = 
14 850 x 47.1 = 41,035 

1.42" thickness of 60" disk and 
30 Ib. pressure. 

area 2,827 x 30 Ib. = 84,810 = 21,202 

60 x 11 = 47.1" 

,. . i 
diameter . 


Yours very truly, 


A great mathematician would cover half a dozen sheets with figures 
to solve the above problem. 


With Mr. Cornelius EL Delamater, the engine manufac- 
turer and proprietor of the Phoenix Foundry, New York, 
Ericsson continued in intimate relation for a longer time than 
with any other man. Mr. Delamater was a clerk in this foun- 
dry when it began work on the engines of the Princeton, in 
January, 1842, and his acquaintance with Ericsson grew out of 
the hitter's relations to this establishment. He had the great- 
est confidence in Ericsson's ability, and the highest admiration 
for his character, and when fortune favored him was always 
ready to assist in carrying on his enterprises. Their friendship 
was founded upon mutual respect and mutual advantage, and 
though their relations became at times somewhat strained, 
owing to Ericsson's hasty temper, there was a solid foundation 
of good will to settle down upon after the tempest had blown 

Mr. Delamater's interest in the success of their joint under- 
takings, as well as good will toward his associate, would at 
times tempt him upon the dangerous ground of criticism. 
Ericsson was a severe censor of his own work, and as he had 
exhausted criticism before his work reached the machine shop, 
he was not accustomed to invite any favors in that line. It 
was not absolutely impossible to convince him that he was 
wrong, but the successful attempt came as near as possible to 
a solution of the lyceum problem as to the result of an encoun- 
ter between an immovable obstacle and an irresistible force. 
Doubts and suggestions already disposed of in his own mind so 
often returned to him through the fears of others, that he be- 
came accustomed to treat criticism with indifference. 

On one occasion when Ericsson was finally convinced that a 
piece of mechanism he had spent much time upon was defect- 
ive, he sent it. flying across the room and against the mantel- 
piece, to the serious disturbance of its offending internal econo- 
my. This was the only announcement he made as to his con- 
clusion concerning it. He demanded the most rigid observance 
of every detail in the drawings provided for the guidance of 
his workmen, and they were hugely delighted when they found 
in one case where they had been furnished with designs for a 
piece of mechanism requiring the introduction of gas, that " the 
old man " had omitted to include the vent-hole in his otherwise 


complete drawing. Such instances of oversight were so rare as 
to be a subject of comment forever after. Generally Ericsson 
was quite safe in saying, as he was accustomed to do when sug- 
gestions were offered to him, " Have } r ou my drawing ? " 
" Then follow that." Mr. "Watson, the editor of the Engineer, 
New York, tells this story of him : 

Charles Nelson, at one time draughtsman in the Old Novelty 
Works in this city, had charge of the engines of the Columbia, designed 
by Captain Ericsson, and when the engines were done it was customary 
in those days to get the length of the piston-rod from the engine itself, 
so that there would be no mistake in cutting the keyway on the piston- 
rod. Nelson was down in the Columbia's cylinder with a baton about 
fourteen feet long, getting clearances, etc., when Captain Ericsson came 
on board by chance and stood right over him. He roared out : " What 
are you doing there, sir ? " 

" Getting the length of the piston-rod, Captain Ericsson. 7 ' 

" Is it not on the drawing, sir ? " 

"Yes, sir." 

"Then why do you come here with sticks, sir? Go and get the 
length from the drawing, sir. I do not want you. to bring sticks when 
the drawing gives the size." 

Charles Bernard, an old New York engineer, recently told us of 
another similar instance of Ericsson's accuracy. John Mars was putting 
in the engines of the old Quinnebaug> and one of the details was a small 
connection as crooked as a dog's hind leg. Mars tried to get it in its 
place for a long time, but failed, and finally went to Ericsson and told 
him the rod could not be got in. Ericsson said : 

" Is it right by the drawing? ** 

"Yes, sir," said Mars. 

" Then it will go in/' said Ericsson ; and when Mars tried it again it 
did go in. 

Mr. Watson further says of Captain Ericsson : 

An incident as to his leniency and consideration for others may be 
related here. The foundry foreman of a certain marine engine works in 
this city said he once made a large casting for a surface condenser for 
Captain Ericsson, and it was so peculiar in some respects that the pro- 
prietors of the work and the foreman of the foundry would not guaran- 
tee it. They feared it would crack by shrinkage strains across the cor- 
ners. Ericsson said he would guarantee ifc, but when it was cast and 
had thoroughly cooled, it was found to be cracked just where it was ex- 
pected to. Ericsson was notified, and came down to look at it. 

*' Can yon make another one with what yon know now ? " said Erics- 
son, The foreman said he thought he could. 


' s Make me another one," said Ericsson, and that was all there was 
about it. 

Incidents like these, varying only in kind, could be related end- 
lessly, for in his long life of constant professional activity he was al- 
ways coming in contact with workmen and others, and was always the 
principal actor. 

Ericsson was unquestionably the foremost man of his time in his 
profession, and while he was careful of his reputation and jealous of 
his standing as an engineer, he was not jealous of individuals or others 
in the profession, unless, indeed, they went out of their way to stir him 
up ; then he was relentless. We have heard Captain Ericsson mention 
many well-known American engineers and their work ; he always gave 
credit where it was due. 

Ericsson was thoroughly familiar with the practical details 
of machine work, but It was his custom to give the most exact 
directions for carrying out his plans and leave their execution 
to others. When on rare occasions he did interfere, it so dis- 
turbed the routine of the work-shop that he lost more than he 
gained. He was not a " mechanic," as Stockton called him, but 
an engineer; that is "one devoted to the science and the art of 
utilizing the forces and materials of nature," and directing those 
who handle machinery or the tools of some craft. The only ma- 
chines he employed himself were those of the scientific investi- 
gator ; the only tools, those of the designer and draughtsman. 

Like most men of aggressive convictions, Ericsson was more 
fond, when talking upon subjects he understood, of presenting 
his own ideas than of listening to what was said in reply, for 
every man, as Euripides says, " occupies himself with that in 
which he finds himself superior." He was never given to gos- 
sip of any sort, although sufficiently vigorous at times in his 
denunciation of those who angered him. To the ordinary top- 
ics of conversation he was indifferent. The policies of Gov- 
ernment, especially as related to questions of armament, occu- 
pied his thoughts, but with politics in the lesser sense he never 
concerned himself, and it is doubtful if he ever voted during 
the forty years of his American citizenship. He prided him- 
self upon his physical vigor, as he had good reason to do. It 
displeased him to note the signs of advancing age, and when 
gray hairs announced the unwelcome advent of his declining 
half century, he invoked the aid of art to deceive time. He 


made no concealment of the fact, however, explaining to his 
friends that he did not dye for their benefit but to gratify his 
own aesthetic taste. He disliked, he said, to see his gray locks 
reflected from his mirror. 

The barber, who came once a week, on one occasion so over- 
emphasized his art that Ericsson, while entertaining a visitor 
soon after, found himself the object of unusually critical obser- 
vation. When the visitor had bidden him good-by he ques- 
tioned his assistant as to the cause and was told that the barber 
had transformed what nature intended to be a Scandinavian 
brown into an oriental black, making a most comical alteration 
in the appearance of the great engineer, and doing violence to 
the scriptural declaration that we cannot make one hair black 
or white. So the barber was sent for and kept at work until 
Ericsson was restored to himself. 

He would occasionally visit the theatre and that he was not 
indifferent to the charms of histrionic art is shown by a 
little circumstance. When Fanny Kemble was giving her 
readings in this country in 1858, she applied through a friend 
to Ericsson asking him to design for her a reading-desk to 
meet certain requirements. When it came to the question of 
paying for it, the gallant Captain wrote a polite letter to the in- 
termediary, asking Mrs. Kemble to accept the service, as an 
expression of his high appreciation of her contributions to the 
art of dramatic interpretation. 

To this Mrs. Kemble replied saying : " I wish you would 
present my compliments to Captain Ericsson and tell him I am 
very grateful to him for his great courtesy and kindness. His 
letter will be treasured among my collection of valued auto- 
graphs and my table preserved and honored among my goods 
and chattels as the most magnificent piece of furniture could 
never deserve to be." 

Delving in a dusty heap of engineering designs and calcula- 
tions, I came upon a paper which seems to shine out from the 
mass like a diamond from its kindred carbon of the coal-heap. 
It was a list of forty Swedish songs in Ericsson's delicate hand- 
writing, which was as dainty as a woman's when he wrote care- 
fully. There were two copies of the list. One contained, the 
titles in Swedish ; the other the Swedish names with a transla- 


tion in English. Among the titles were such as these : " And 
Woman's Destiny is Certain," u Resolve and Act are One with 
Woman," " Who are You, My Girl ? " u It is so Sweet in 
Spring," "Young Lady, in Your Springtime," "I Possess Such 
a Handsome Wife," "Give Me while yet My Wife," "And 
Sunset Parts," " O Eobert, Cruel is Our Parting,'' " Bacchus 
Calls His Lamb." 

" E'en in our ashes burn the wonted fires." Here was the 
busy engineer who had governed his life, as nearly as possible 
to all appearances, by the exact calculations of machine work, 
turning aside, as he neared the end of his third score, to revive 
his recollections of the songs lie had no doubt sung in the days 
when he indited sonnets to the Northern Lights from under the 
shadows of the Jemtland forests. It would be a great mistake 
to infer from this sober narration of engineering achievement 
and scientific study that John Ericsson had any sympathy with 
the chemist, who refused to marry because his analysis of wom- 
an detected in her composition nothing beyond a combination 
of sundry salts with water. His reasons for living solitary, in- 
stead of following the admonition to c * dwell together in fami- 
lies," were sufficient, but they by no means implied indifference 
to woman. That he had a high appreciation of the obligations 
of marriage is shown by this letter addressed to a young bride- 
groom : 

NEW YORK, July 20, 1860. 

MY DEAR SIR: Your notice was too short to admit; of my being 
present at the very interesting ceremony at Christ Church last Wednes- 
day. A reluctant absentee on the solemn occasion, allow me now to 
offer my cordial congratulations. Not simply do I hope that you may 
enjoy all happiness, which married life under favorable circumstances is 
so well calculated to bestow. I am delighted to find that all commend 
your choice, yet I cannot refrain from giving you as a friend advice not; 
to expect too much of your wife. Eemember well that you will yourself 
fail to meet the just expectations of her whose destiny is now entwined 
with your own, and whose happiness in life is now so completely at your 
mercy. Pardon this phrase, which I select with a friend's anxious desire 
that you should duly contemplate your high responsibility at the very 
outset of your, so to speak, new experience, 

Yours truly, 



Ericsson had a hope that he might prolong his days well on 
to the completion of a century, but as to that he had no anxiety. 
His only wish was to retain to the end his capacity for work, 
since with him idleness was misery. He had no resources out- 
side of his absorbing devotion to work, and as is the case with 
all men whose lives are prolonged, those in whom his deepest 
affections centred nearly all passed away before him. Domes- 
tic relations he could hardly have been said to have had at all. 
In his way an admirer of women, he was never willing to meet 
them on their own terms, for he regarded them rather in the 
light of a diversion for his leisure than as companions in the 
serious matters of life. The experiences of his early manhood 
are hidden in obscurity, for he remorselessly destroyed nearly 
all the letters and documents relating to his career previous to 
the year 1861, when his success was established. Here and 
there comes a flash of light to reveal his characteristics, but 
nowhere do I find any indication of a purely sentimental or in- 
tellectual relation to the opposite sex. He was kindly, he was 
generous, he was considerate, and in his relations to his kin 
most affectionate, as his letters show, but the attempt to accom- 
modate himself to feminine sensibilities assumed with him a 
place among the less important duties of life. 

As some of Ericsson's most intimate friends were lawyers, 
it is evident that he had no prejudice against the members of 
the legal profession. Yet his experience with courts had not 
predisposed him in favor of professional methods and the end- 
less worry and expense attending the defence of his rights 
against infringement had given him a dread of litigation. On 
one occasion when a steamship company refused to pay his 
modest bill of five hundred dollars, for showing them how to 
remedy a defect in one of their engines which was beyond the 
skill of their own engineers, he was persuaded to bring suit. 
All went well until he received tlie necessary summons to ap- 
pear as a witness. To this he refused to respond, and let his 
case go by default rather than submit himself to the badgering 
of the lawyers. Had the rule of ancient Greece prevailed, and 
suitors been required to plead their own causes, he would have 
won almost any case, for he was a master of persuasive dis- 
course upon any subject that he understood. He was more than 


once the victim of the ignorance concerning mechanical ques- 
tions prevailing, especially in former years when courts and 
juries were more easily misled in technical matters by resem- 
blances that did not indicate perfect similarity. "When Ericsson 
came to ISTew York Professor Mapes was almost, if not quite, 
the only consulting engineer in the city, and professional 
knowledge had hardly passed beyond the period when a phys- 
ician was considered "competent, after a week's study in a li- 
brary, to design the capitol at Washington, and when it was 
easy for a man who knew a little more than his neighbors to 
persuade them that he knew everything. 



Ericsson's Preparation for His Great Work. His Struggles with Profes- 
sidnal Jealousy. Dealings with the Navy Department Previous to 
1861. Presents Two Sub-aquatic Systems of Attack to the Emperor 
of the French. History of Armored Vessels. Outbreak of the Civil 
War. Prompt Action of the Confederate Authorities. Ericsson 
Offers His Services to President Lincoln. Is Called to Washing- 
ton. Dramatic Interview with the Board on Armor-Clads. The 
Monitor Ordered. 

** Tjl ACH tiring, both in small and in great, fulfill eth the task 
J--^ which destiny has set down," and it is only when we 
discard the theory of chance or accident, that the history of such 
a man as Ericsson becomes clear to us. Then, through all the 
seemingly tangled web of circumstance, we are able to trace the 
evidences of over-ruling purpose, and to see how incidents, ap- 
parently without connection, stand in orderly relations one to 
another as essential parts of an intelligent design. Ericsson's 
early training on the Gota Canal ; his studies of artillery and 
of military engineering in the camps of Jemtland ; his obser- 
vation of the behavior of raft-like structures in the storms 
sweeping over the Swedish lakes; his experience in the difficult 
and but little understood work of marine construction, in the 
handling of men and choice of material ; his unceasing studies 
into the possibilities of applying old principles in new ways, 
and his constant effort to emancipate himself from the slavery 
of routine all these were to have a part in the great work 
involving the interests of a nation, the hopes of humanity. 
All the strength and experience gathered by the exercise of 
his great powers for nearly half a century were needed now, to 
meet the strain of a demand to which no other living man was 
adequate, for whatever part others may have borne in the 


events succeeding the election of Abraham Lincoln, in I860, 
the contribution of John Ericsson to the cause of National 
Unity was as unique as it was important. 

When the storm, which had been gathering through so many 
years of political commotion burst over Fort S ranter, in the 
spring of 1861, Ericsson was in the fifty-eighth year of his age. 
He had the constitution and the vital force of a man of forty ; 
an. experience in actual accomplishment such as few acquire 
even in the longest lifetime, and this experience was of a nat- 
ure to make his services of the greatest value to his adopted 
country. Yet no place could be found for him at a time when 
the public security demanded the services of every man capable 
of assisting it. High commissions in the military service 
were obtained by men whose lives had been spent in making 
speeches or manipulating politics } and they were bestowed on 
foreigners of every degree of military experience or inexperi- 
ence. Search lights were turned in all directions to discover 
men who might aid the Government ; but not a ray of light 
fell upon John Ericsson. 

The difficulty was not that he was unknown, but that he 
was too well known at least at "Washington, and in those bu- 
reaus of the Navy Department with which his abilities and his 
experience would naturally associate him. Since his work in 
1842-43 upon the Princeton, lie had been engaged more or less 
with Government matters ; but with the bureaus he was no 
favorite. Prom their point of view lie was a failure. They 
preferred the safe waters of precedent, while it was his mission 
to sail the high seas of discovery. Without judging between 
them, it is sufficient to say that Ericsson and the Government 
officers, to whom lie looked for approval, were seldom in ac- 

Writing to Sir John Burgoyne during the Crimean War, 
Brunei, the great engineer, said : " You are the first profes- 
sional man of high official rank I have met with ready to assume 
the possibility of a man who is neither R.E. nor Il.lN". [Royal 
Engineer or Hoyal Navy] having an idea worth attending to." 
Brunei had taken to the Lords of the Admiralty a sugges- 
tion, prompted by his anxiety to assist his adopted country in 
the contest wherein it was allied with his native France. This 


suggestion was rejected without a hearing, as the suggestions 
of Ericsson and so many others have been rejected from time 
to time by these Lords Paramount of official stolidity. From 
boards Brunei turned to brains and made his appeal to 
Palmerston, who referred his proposition for report to Sir 
John Burgoyne, inspector of fortifications, lieutenant-general 
and second in command of the British forces in the Crimea. 
In a letter to the Prime Minister, enclosing a favorable report, 
Burgoyne suggested that in dealing with the eminent engineer 
" there was need of the exercise of tact, arising from his 
thorough independence, which rather requires that he should 
be courted than merely given permission to work out his plans, 
and his great dislike to negotiate with the authorities of the 

ISTo man knew better than Sir John how the interests of the 
Government are sacrificed to the conceit of office ; to the dis- 
position of small men in large places to make arrogance supply 
the place of ability. In a letter to Brunei, General Burgoyne, 
speaking from large experience, thus explained the secret of 
the antagonism so often arising between public officers and men 
of ability in private station who seek to serve the Government: 

First, there is our own jealousy, pride, and conceit, of which you all 
complain, and with much reason, originating in a false idea that we 
should be admitting a culpable want of knowledge in our own business 
by obtaining assistance from others ; then another false conception, 
that because in all these things there are certain military considera- 
tions involved, of which civilians must be comparatively ignorant, there- 
fore it is that only a military man can devise them ; whereas it is 
generally much more easy for us to make you masters of the military 
conditions, than to obtain from you what is necessary for the rest. 

At the same time there is usually great fault on the side of the ci- 
vilian projectors; they put us down for a set of ignoramuses and do not 
admit that there can be any military considerations that can be of the 
least consequence, or that they do not know by intuition. Hence the 
most outrageous propositions, which the projectors, however, cling to 
with pertinacity, and call us bigots, narrow-minded, and fools because 
we will not adopt them.* 

Here is an explanation of some of Ericsson's difficulties. 
As a civilian, seeking to influence naval administration, he 

* Life and Correspondence of Sir Jolm Burgovne, pp. 


realized the disadvantages of what is known to military men 
as fighting on exterior lines. He was often thwarted by inter- 
ference with his plans, as in one instance whereof he bitterly 
exclaims, in a private letter : " In the name of God is not 
my position cruel? The scoundrels have prevented my fur- 
nishing plans or giving directions ; and now that they have 
failed, they attribute this failure to having worked to my 
plans! " This was no uncommon experience with him. 

"In the name of common sense," he says in another letter, 
" should an engineer's experiments militate against his works 
intended for practical purposes ? If so, experiment should be 
conducted by those only who are incapable of constructing any- 
thing. Am I not the originator and founder and perfector of 
war steamers, under-water machinery and entire system ? Did 
any of my screw-engines ever fail ? EXPEBIMENTS with con- 
densers, fresh-water apparatus, boilers, etc., etc., are matters 
apart that must not be confounded with engines "built fov ^prac- 
tical purposes. I say damned is the injustice of calling him 
'wild' who has originated with his wildness and perfected war 
propulsion ! " This is vigorous language, but no more vigorous 
than Ericsson's experience justified. 

" You have heard me say," he writes again, " that no man 
can tell by any process of reasoning how a new form of boiler 
may answer. I have always contended that the subject is not 
susceptible of previous determination. Not so with the new 
form of engine to be worked by steam already generated ! I 
profess to be able to determine that point on mechanical data. 
In that respect I never was mistaken, for out of some fifty dis- 
tinctly different forms of steam-engines I never yet failed in a 
single instance ; with steam at command I have always pro- 
duced a perfect working engine. All the world predicted fail- 
ure in the case of that most novel form of engine of the Prince- 
ton. But ail the world proved wrong, but mark, I had the 
steam furnished by boilers of Jcnown and approved form." 

These letters were written seven years before the outbreak 
of the American Civil War had directed universal attention 
to Ericsson's signal ability. From them, and from other let- 
ters, it appears that he was striving to impress his views 
upon the Navy Department at Washington and was met by a 


spirit of hostility and distrust which paralyzed his efforts to 
serve the country. Even his sober statement as to what experi- 
ence had made possible to him was gauged by the capabilities 
of feebler men ; the giant was accused of extravagance because 
he would not limit his powers of performance to those of the 
dwarfs. It was supposed that two years would be required to 
build a war steamer, and Ericsson's offer to do the same work 
in eight months subjected him to suspicion. Concerning this 
he wrote to Mr. Sargent, saying : 

NEW YORK, April 20, 1854: 

MY DEAE SAEGKNT : I have your letter of the 17th, relative to your in- 
teresting interview with the Secretary of the Navy. I feel a little net- 
tled at the Hon. Secretary's doubting my statement as to the time of 
building the Ericsson. Please present to him the enclosed document 
on the subject. 

I note that the Secretary thinks my assertion that a screw steamer 
may be built in eight months a "wild " one. After he has perused the 
document alluded to, he will think otherwise. Did I promise to build 
such a vessel in five months he would be justified in thinking me wild, 
though he could by no means prove his position. Should I, however, 
promise to do the work in six months it would be quite possible for me 
to redeem such promise. The steamship Massachusetts, without extraor- 
dinary exertion, was built, hull, engines, and all, and under steam in 
six months. 

The machinery of a screw steamer contrasted to the gigantic eight- 
cylinder engine of the caloric ship, is absolutely insignificant. Indeed, 
had I the entire control of building, I should feel impatient at spending 
more than five months in building a screw engine. 

One word as to my promise to build a vessel that would blow half a 
dozen English or French screw ships out of the water. Dobbin will 
scarcely find it so difficult to repress his merriment at the suggestion as 
did Mr. Dord, of the British Admiralty, on my proposing to ^thern the 
application of the propeller to their men of war exactly as the thing is now 
done. Pray put me in the right with the Hon. Secretary. I do nqt pro- 
pose to build the destructive vessel, I only say that in eight months 
such a vessel could' easily be constructed. 

Yours* very truly, 


JOHN O. SAKGENT, Washington. 

He was at tins time perfecting his system of " sub-aquatic 
attack," and his ill-success at Washington no doubt had its in- 


flnence in prompting him to turn bis attention elsewhere, as it 
will be seen that he did. 

In a confidential letter written to John Bourne, Ericsson 
said : "The great importance of what I call the sub-aquatic sys- 
tem of naval warfare strongly presented itself to my mind in 
1826. Yet I have not during this long interval communicated 
my ideas to a single person, excepting Emperor Napoleon III. 
What I knew twelve years ago, he knows with regard to the 
general result of my labors, but the details remain a secret 
with me. The monitor of 1854: was the visible part of my sys- 
tem, and its grand features were excluded from its published 
drawings and description." " The plan I sent to the Emperor," 
he says, in another letter, " was the result of my study from 
youth. An impregnable and partially submerged instrument 
for destroying ships of war has been one of the hobbies of my 
life. I had the plan matured long before I left England. As 
for protecting war engines for naval purposes with iron, the 
idea is as old as my recollection." 

The "grand features," excluded from the published draw- 
ings of the monitor offered to Napoleon, were apparently those 
pertaining to Ericsson's system of under- water attack. After 
his death I found among his papers two autographic drawings, 
shown here in fac-simile. In his " Contributions,," Captain 
Ericsson speaks of them as "unfortunately lost," alluding, 
perhaps, to more finished drawings. Those given here show 
clearly the ideas developed on the Destroyer of 1878. The 
emergency of our Civil War did not call them forth, and 
they were no doubt reserved for an occasion that did not 
arise until declining years warned their author that there 
was danger that they might die with him. They would 
have been developed promptly enough in the event of an 
attack by a, naval power upon either Sweden or the United 
States. , ' 

The original inspiration to Ericsson's studies in naval de- 
fence was the protection of his native Sweden against foreign 
aggression, and especially against the encroachments of Russia, 
whose hostility to Sweden was among the vivid recollections of 
his early youth. His letter was sent to Napoleon, September 
26, 1854, through the Swedish Consul at New York, and the 


Swedish Minister in Paris. Concerning his purpose in laying 
the matter before the Emperor, he says : " My object was to 
cause the destruction of the fleets of the hereditary enemy of 
rny native land. Strange to say, no sooner did my communica- 
tion reach its destination, than news came that the fleet at Se- 
bastopol had been voluntarily consigned to those subaqueous 
regions which I had had in view. Deeply regretting what had 
occurred, I ceased to labor in the matter until our civil war 
broke out, when I took it up with great enthusiasm and finally 
elaborated some points of detail ; cautiously waiting, however, 
to move until England and France should, by overt act, es- 
pouse the cause of our enemies a cause which involved the 
perpetuation of the bondage and a firmer riveting of the 
shackles, for another century, of four million of persons whose 
only crime was their color, the inevitable consequence being 
that at the end of that century this fair portion of our planet 
would have contained some forty millions of bondsmen. But 
the echo of the guns at Hampton Roads had its effect. It 
was deemed imprudent to send fleets of wooden vessels among 
enemies so fertile in mechanical expedients and so enterprising 
as the Americans." 

"I imagined," he said further, in a letter to Assistant-Secre- 
tary Fox, of the Navy Department, " that I had a very valu- 
able idea and kept it secure accordingly." 

The Emperor of the French does not appear to have been 
sufficiently impressed with this idea to make use of it, and the 
receipt of the plans was simply acknowledged with the usual 
formal reply of courteous thanks as follows : 

MONSIEUR: The Emperor has himself examined with the greatest 
care the new system of naval attack which yon have submitted to him. 
His Majesty directs me to have the honor of informing you that he has 
found your ideas very ingenious and worthy of the celebrated name of 
their author ; but the Emperor thinks that the result to be obtained 
would not be proportionate to the expenses or to the small number of 
guns which eoul$ be brought into use. Although not disposed to make 
use of your inventions the Emperor appreciates all their merit, and di- 
rects me to thank yon for this interesting communication. 

The plans and description sent to the Emperor were accord- 
ingly put aside,, and the dust of nearly seven years had aceumu- 


lated upon them before another motive appealed to Ericsson 
with sufficient strength to induce him to make them available 
for the purposes of warfare, "This motive," as he explains, 
" was that of serving the Union cause by constructing vessels 
capable of defeating the Merrimac and other Confederate iron- 
clad vessels." 

In July, 1861, Mr. Delamater, who had been Ericsson's as- 
sociate in so many of his engineering enterprises, wrote to him 
from Washington, saying : " I am treated well : have had two 
evening interviews with Mr. Secretary Welles, one of them 
alone in my own room, yet I have no expectation of any con- 
tract or immediate good to result to me or to us from my pres- 
ent stay. I am remaining to finish off Mr. Isherwood if possi- 
ble, which I think I owe it to my country to do. Mr. Welles 
seems to have taken a fancy to me and I have avoided pressing 
any special purpose, and altogether my position appears to be 
strangely disinterested. Am to see Mr. Welles this evening at 
his request. I have given Isherwood an Irish hoist, and if I 
only knew who in the navy to aid, might almost finish the 

As Ericsson and Delamater had various interests together it 
does not follow that this visit had any relation to the proposed 
iron-dads. Indeed, the allusion to Ericsson's old antagonist, 
Mr. Isherwood, chief of the Naval Bureau of Steam Engineer- 
ing, would indicate that it was to the work of his department 
that Mr. Delamater's efforts were directed. 

The subject of iron-clad vessels had at that time just begun 
to attract the attention of Congress, and no appropriation for 
building such vessels was yet available. In his report dated 
July 4, 1861, the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Gideon Welles, 
called attention to the efforts of foreign governments, and par- 
ticularly France and England, to provide themselves with 
" floating batteries or iron-clad steamers " adding : " I would 
recommend the appointment of a proper and competent board 
to inquire into and report in regard to a measure so important, 
and it is for Congress to decide whether, on favorable report, 
they will order one or more iron-clad steamers, or floating bat- 

The submission of Ericsson's plans to the Emperor Napo- 


leon had been followed the next year, 1855, by the appearance 
in the attack upon Kinburn, during the Crimean War, of three 
French floating batteries clad with 4-J-inch plates, the Lave, 
the Devastation, and the Tonnante. Three years later, in 1858, 
Napoleon ordered the construction of four armor-plated steam 
frigates, Z# Gloire, I? Invincible, La Normandie, and La Cou- 
'rotine. These were all the armored vessels France had in com- 
mission at the beginning of 1861. Two others, the Solferino 
and Magenta, had been launched, and twelve more were on the 
stocks. England had at sea her Warrior, Black Prince, De- 
fence, Resistance, and Royal OaTc, with five other armor-clads 
launched and eleven more under way. This refers to sea-go- 
ing vessels only. None of these ships had any resemblance to 
the vessel suggested by Ericsson to Napoleon in 1854, except 
in their significant departure from the precedent of wooden 
walls, upon which so much reliance had hitherto been placed. 

The conditions calling for armor plating had actually ex- 
isted for forty years, or ever since the introduction, in 1819, by 
one of the soldiers of the First Napoleon, General Henri Jo- 
seph Paixhans of the system of firing explosive shell directly 
at an object, instead of from mortars on an ascending and de- 
scending curve through the air, as before.* 

The attention of the British Admiralty was called in 1834- 
35 to the advisability of adopting iron for ships of war. Iron 


* In response to a letter from Rear-Admiral S. B. Luce, U.S.N., claiming 
this invention for General George Bomford, U.S.A., whose " columbiad" 
was known at an earlier date, Ericsson wrote this letter : 

NEW YORK, December 10, 1885. 

DEAB ADMIRAL, : Shortly after my arrival in this country, 1839, I became 
intimately acquainted with Colonel Bomford and Commodore Perry. The 
latter had just returned from England and France, where he had studied 
naval ordnance under instructions from the Navy Department. The result 
of his journey was considered very important at the time, as he brought a full 
report of the success of the then recent labors of General Paixhan ; he also 
brought complete drawings of Paixhan's perfected shell gun, which was at 
once adopted by the Navy Department at Washington for the two large pad- 
dle wheel steam frigates, Mississippi and Missouri, then being constructed. 

I had frequent interviews with the two United States officers mentioned, 
as I brought plans of a'screw steamship-of-war, for which Congress at once 
granted an appropriation. Of course General Paixhan 's brilliant invention 
and its important bearing on naval warfare was frequently adverted to dur- 


targets were ordered to be prepared at Woolwich for experiment 
with a 32- pounder smooth-bore gun at a range of only thirty 
yards. Iron was condemned as a result of these experiments, 
and the Admiralty fell back upon the old wooden walls, as the 
only vessels calculated for the purposes of war. This decision 
against a change retarded everything in the shape of progress 
until the adoption of iron-clads in the French Navy compelled 
England to follow the lead of Napoleon in 1855.* 

As early as 1845 an American engineer, Mr. K. L. Stevens, 
had undertaken to experiment with armor, and in the year that 
Ericsson sent the model of his monitor to France had begun, as 
has been already stated, the construction of an iron-plated ship. 

The results of shell-firing upon naval warfare were not 
made apparent until the Crimean War. Then Napoleon III.,, 
who prided himself upon his knowledge of artillery, was greatly 
chagrined to find how much the French navy was at a disad- 
vantage in the contest with the Russian forts in the Black Sea. 
If he did not take Ericsson's plans, he certainly adopted the 
suggestion of armor defence and built five armor-clads, England 
following in humble imitation with an equal number on the 
same general plan. The guns at this time had so much the 
ad vantage that the Russians were able to steam into Sinope and 
in a single morning destroy the Turkish fleet, to shut out Sir 
Charles Napier from Cronstadt, and to defy the allied fleets at 
SebastopoL Of the British experience in the Black Sea Lord 
Dundonald, one of the bravest sailors that ever trod a quarter- 
ing the said interviews, yet Colonel Bomford in raj presence never claimed 
the new gun as his invention. 

In connection with coast defence the " columbiad '* was often spoken of, a 
gun particularly described in the enclosed extract from Colonel Benton's 
f Ordnance and G-unnery, published at New York, 1867. I also enclose a 
brief extract from Appleton's Cyclopedia of 1864, vol. xii., page 145. 

With reference to the ** bomb cannon " for firing hollow shot charged 
with powder, I beg to observe that during my early studies of artillery, pre- 
vious to 1820, such a gun was not even then regarded as a novelty. 

I have deemed the foregoing explanation necessary in answer to your as- 
sumption that I have in my Century article, inadvertently deprived General 
Bomford of the credit of being the originator of a system known in Europe 
"before his time. I am, Admiral, yours truly, 


* Fairbairn on Iron Ship Building. 


deck, asserted that the Russian shells made it impossible to 
continue the vessels under fire, and it was considered no dis- 
grace to declare, after three shells had exploded in one ship, it 
was not possible to find men "fools enough to stand to the 
guns." " The man who goes into action in a wooden vessel is 
a fool," said Sir John Hay, u and the man who sends him there 
is a villain." 

The Confederate Secretary of the ISfavy in 1860 was Mr. 
Stephen R. Mallory, of Florida, who had served for several 
years in Congress as Chairman of the ISTaval Committee. lie 
had been, as we have seen, a champion of Ericsson, and in a 
speech in Congress, made in May, 1858, had shown intelligent 
appreciation of the revolution in naval warfare accomplished by 
the Princeton. Mr. Mallory was much better informed in nau- 
tical matters than Mr. Welles, Secretary of the Navy in the 
Cabinet of Mr. Lincoln, and more prompt to recognize the 
changes in naval warfare. Two months before the Federal 
Secretary of the Navy had made his halting suggestion to Con- 
gress on the subject of armored vessels the head of the Con- 
federate naval service had spoken on the same subject in these 
distinct terms, in a letter to the Chairman of the Confederate 
Naval Committee dated May 8, 1861 : 

I regard the possession of an iron-armored ship as a matter of the 
first necessity. Such a vessel at this time could traverse the entire 
coast of the United States, prevent all blockade, and encounter, with a 
fair prospect of success, their entire navy. If, to cope with them upon 
the sea, we follow their example, and build wooden ships, we shall have 
to construct several at one time, for one or two ships would fall an easy 
prey to their comparatively numerous steam frigates. But inequality of 
numbers may be compensated by invulnerability, and thus not only 
does economy, but naval success, dictate the wisdom and expediency of 
fighting with iron against wood without regard to first cost. 

Naval engagements between wooden frigates, as they are now built 
and armed, will prove to be the forlorn hopes of the sea, simply contests 
in which the question, not of victory, but of who shall go to the bottom 
first, is to be solved. Should the committee deem it expedient to 
begin at once the construction of such a ship, not a moment should be 

Mr. Mallory's action was as decided as his words, Without 
waiting for an appropriation, ,on July 11, 1861, he approved 


plans submitted to him by Chief Engineer William P. "William- 
son, Lieutenant John M. Brooke, an ex-officer of the United 
States Navy, and JSTaval Constructor John L. Porter. These 
plans provided for raising and altering into an iron-clad, the 
U. S. frigate Merrimac, of 3,500 tons and 40 guns. This had 
been burnt and sunk at the Norfolk Navy Yard when it was 
abandoned in April, 1861. With but one establishment in the 
South capable of furnishing her armor, the Tredegar foundry, 
the work upon the Virginia, as she was rechristened, was slow, 
and in this delay Ericsson found his opportunity. 

On August 3, 1861, President Lincoln approved an act of 
Congress, authorizing the appointment of a Board asked for by 
Mr. Welles. An advertisement inviting proposals for iron- 
clad steam vessels was issued from the Navy Department, and 
August 8th Commodores Joseph Smith and Hiram Paulding 
and Commander Charles H. Davis were appointed a board to 
examine plans. Twenty-six days later Ericsson prepared the 
letter to President Lincoln which follows, as appears from a 
copy of it in his handwriting found among his papers : 

NEW YOKE, August 29, 1861. 

SIB : The writer, having introduced the present system of naval pro- 
pulsion and constructed the first screw ship of war, now offers to con- 
struct a vessel for the destruction of the rebel fleet at Norfolk and for 
scouring the Southern rivers and inlets of all craft protected by rebel 
batteries. Having thus briefly noticed the object of my addressing you, 
it will be proper for me most respectfully to state that in making this 
offer I seek no private advantage or emolument of any kind. Fortu- 
nately I have already upward of one thousand of my caloric engines in 
successful operation, with affluence in prospect. Attachment to the 
Union alone impels me to offer my services at this fearful crisis my 
life if need be in the great cause which Providence has called yon to 
defend. Please look carefully at the enclosed plans and you will find 
that the means I propose to employ are very simple so simple, in- 
deed, that within ten weeks after commencing the structure I would en- 
gage to be ready to take up position under the rebel guns at Norfolk, 
and so efficient too, I trust, that within a few hours the stolen ships 
would be sunk and the harbor purged of traitors. Apart from the fact 
that the proposed vessel is very simple in construction, due weight, I re- 
spectfully submit, should be given to the circumstance that its projector 
possesses practical and constructive skill shared by no engineer now 
living. I have planned upward of one hundred marine engines and I 


furnish daily, working-plans made with my own hands of mechanical 
and naval structures of various kinds, and I have done so for thirty 
years. Besides this I have received a military education and feel at 
home in the science of artillery. You will not, sir, attribute these 
statements to any other cause than my anxiety to prove that you may 
safely entrust me with the work I propose. If you cannot do so then 
the country must lose the benefit of my proffered services. If, on the 
other hand, you decide to act, please telegraph and I will at once wait 
upon you in Washington. I respectfully submit that in the former case 
you return the plans, honored with your signature, to testify that I have 
discharged the duty of laying this important matter before you. 

I cannot conclude without respectfully calling your attention to the 
now well-established fact that steel-clad vessels cannot be arrested in 
their course by land batteries, and that hence our great city is quite at 
the mercy of such intruders, and may at any moment be laid in ruins, 
unless we possess means which, in defiance of Armstrong guns, can 
crush the sides of such dangerous visitors. 

I am, sir, with profound respect, your obedient servant, 


To His Excellency ABB ATT AM LINCOLN, President of the United States. 

It is not for me, sir, to remind you of the immense moral effect that 
will result from your discomfiting the rebels at Norfolk and showing 
that batteries can no longer protect vessels robbed from the nation, nor 
need I allude to the effect in Europe if you demonstrate that you can 
effectively keep hostile fleets away from our shores. At the moment of 
putting this communication under envelope it occurs to me finally that 
it is unsafe to trust the plans to the mails. I therefore respectfully 
suggest that you reflect on my proposition. Should you decide to put 
the work in hand, if my plan meets your own approbation, please tele- 
graph and within forty-eight hours the writer will report himself at the 
White House. 

It was fortunate for Ericsson that the naval board on iron- 
clads were so ignorant as they were of the subject committed 
to their decision. Beyond a general distrust of and prejudice 
against armored vessels they had 110 opinion concerning them, 
and no predilections in favor of any special system. Embarked 
upon unfamiliar waters, they were ready to listen to anyone 
who offered to pilot them safely into harbor. In their report 
to the Secretary of the Navy, dated September 16, 1861, they 
frankly said : " Distrustful of our ability to discharge tbi$ 
duty, we approach the subject with diffidence, having BO ex- 
perience and but scant knowledge in this branch of naval areni- 


tecture." Their disposition was to favor vessels for coast and 
harbor defence, as undoubtedly formidable adjuncts to fortifica- 
tions on land. " For river and harbor service/' they declared, 
" we consider iron-clad vessels of light draught or floating bat- 
teries, thus shielded, as very important." Their final conclusion 
was to meet the immediate demand by calling for " vessels in- 
vulnerable to shot, of light draught of water, before going into 
a more perfect system of large iron-clad sea-going vessels of 
war." So far, then, their disposition was in favor of such a 
vessel as Ericsson proposed. 

The three vessels the Board recommended for adoption 
were the Ericsson floating battery ; a broadside vessel of 3,296 
tons, afterward known as the Ironsides, and the ffalena. The 
plans for this last vessel were presented by Mr. C. S. Bushnell, 
of New Haven, Conn., who was subsequently associated with 
Ericsson in building the Monitor. Telling the story of his ex- 
perience with the Board Mr. Bushnell said, in a letter written 
some years ago to Secretary Welles: 

The Board examined hundreds of plans, good and bad, and among 
others that of a plated gunboat called the Galena, contrived by S. H. 
Pook, now a constructor in the navy. The partial protection of iron bars 
proposed for her, seemed so burdensome that many naval officers warned 
me against the possibility that she might not be able to carry the weight 
of her armament. 

I met Mr. C. H. Delamater on the steps of Willard's Hotel in "Wash- 
ington just after I had secured the contract for the Galena. "When I 
told him that several naval men doubted whether the vessel would be 
able to carry the stipulated amount of iron, he advised me to consult 
the engineer Captain John Eiicsson, of New York, as one whose opinion 
would settle the matter definitely and with accuracy. Acting npon the 
advice of Mr. Delamater, I went to New York on the following day and 
laid the plans of the Galena before Captain Ericsson, asking whether 
the vessel would be able to carry the specified armor. I gave him the 
data necessary for his calculations and he told me to call the next day 
for his reply. This I did and received the answer. " She will easily 
carry the load you propose and stand a six-inch shot at a respectable 

At the close of this interview Captain Ericsson asked me if I had 
time just then to examine the plan of a floating battery, absolutely im- 
pregnable to the heaviest shot or shell. I replied that this problem had 
been occupying me for the last three months, and that considering the 


time required for construction, the Galena was the best result I had 
been able to obtain. 

He then produced a small, dust-covered bos, and placed before me 
the model and plan of the Monitor, explaining how quickly and power- 
fully she could be built, and exhibiting with characteristic pride a 
medal and letter of thanks received seven years previously from Napo- 
leon III. For it appears that Ericsson had invented this battery dur- 
ing the Franco -Kussian War, and out of hostility to Russia had pre- 
sented it to France, hoping thus to aid in the defeat of Sweden's 
hereditary foe. The invention, however, came too late to be of service 
and was preserved for another issue. 

I was perfectly overjoyed when, at the close of the interview, Cap- 
tain Ericsson entrusted the box with its precious contents to my care. 
You doubtless will remember my delight with the plan of the Monitor, as 
I followed you to Hartford, where you were spending a few days, and as- 
tounded you by saying that the country was safe because I had found a 
battery which would make us masters of the situation, so far as the 
ocean was concerned. I left New York that night and went to Hart- 
ford direct, without stopping at my home in New Haven, so eager was 
I to save time in bringing this great discovery to the knowledge of the 
Navy Department. 

You were much pleased and urged me to lose no time in presenting 
the plan to the Naval Board at Washington. I at once secured the co- 
operation of wise and able associates, in the persons of the late Hon. 
John A. Griswold, and John F. Winslow, of Troy, both friends of Gov- 
ernor Seward (Secretary of State) and large manufacturers of iron 
plates, etc. Governor Seward furnished us with a strong letter of in- 
troduction to President Lincoln, who was at once greatly pleased with 
the simplicity of the plan, and agreed to accompany us to the Navy De- 
partment at 11 A.M. the following day, and aid us as best he could. 
He was on hand promptly at 11 o'clock the day before your return from 
Hartford. Captain Fox (Assistant Secretary of the Navy) together with 
a part of the Naval Board were present.* All were surprised with the 
novelty of the plan. Some advised trying it ; others ridiculed it. The 
conference was finally closed for that day by Mr. Lincoln's remarking : 

"All I have to say is what the girl said when she stuck her foot into 
the stocking, It strikes me there's something in it ! " f 

The following day Admiral Smith convened the full board, and I 
presented as best I could the plan and its merits, carefully noting the 
remark of each member of the board., I then went to my hotel quite 
sanguine of success, but only to be disappointed the following day. 

* Several naval officers were also present unofficially. 

f Mr. Bushnell was given a pasteboard model of the Monitor, admirably 
illustrating the easy method of training the guns "by rotating the turret. It 
was this that struck Lincoln, and which he held in his hand when he re- 
marked about the girl and her stocking. 


For during the hours following the last session I found that the air had 
been thick with croakings that the department was about to father an- 
other Ericsson failure. 

Never was I more active than in proving that Ericsson had never 
made a failure ; that on the contrary he had built for our Government 
the first steam war propeller ever made ; that the bursting of the gun 
was no fault of his, but of the shell, which was not made strong enough 
to prevent its flattening up with the pressure of the explosion behind it, 
making the bursting of the guu unavoidable ; * that his caloric principle 
was a triumphant success, but that no metal had yet been found to util- 
ize it on a large scale. I succeeded at length in getting Admirals 
Smith and Paulding to promise to sign a report advising the building 
of one trial battery provided Captain Davis would join with them. On 
going to him I was informed that I might "take the little thing home 
and worship it, as it would not be idolatry, because it was in the image 
of nothing in the heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters 
under the earth." 

One thing only yet remained to be done. This was to get Ericsson 
to come to Washington and plead the case himself. This I was sure 
would win the case, and so informed you, for Ericsson is a full electric 
battery in himself. You at once promised to have a meeting at your 
own room if I could succeed in inducing him to come. This was ex- 
ceedingly doubtful ; for so badly had he been treated, and so unmerci- 
fully maligned in regard to the Princeton, that he had repeatedly de- 
clared that he would never set foot in Washington again, 

Nevertheless, I appeared at his house next morning precisely at nine 
o'clock, and heard his sharp greeting : 

" Well, how is it ? " 

"Glorious," said I. 

" Go on ! go on," said he with impatience. "What did they say ? " 

"Admiral Smith says it is worthy of the genius of an Ericsson." 

The pride fairly gleamed in his eye. 

" But Paulding what did he say of it ? " 

" He said it was just the thing to clear the rebels out of Charles- 
ton with." 

"How about Davis?" he inquired, as I appeared to delay a mo- 

"Captain Davis/' said I, " wants two or three explanations in detail 
that I couldn't give him, and Secretary Welles wishes you to come right 
on and make them before the entire board in his room at the Depart- 
"Well, nigo, Til go to-night." 

* Mr. Bushnell might have said further that it was not Ericsson's gun 
that burst, but the one Stockton had copied from it, and which had, in some 
way, been so injured in the forging that the crystals were of abnormal size. 
Nor was it reinforced as Ericsson's gun' was: 


From that moment I knew that the success of the affair was assured. 
You remember how he thrilled every person present in your room with 
his vivid description of what the little boat would be, and what she 
could do, and that in ninety days time she could be built, although the 
rebels had already been four months at work on the Memimac with all 
the appliances of the Norfolk Navy Yard to help them. You asked him 
how much it would cost to complete her. Two hundred and seventy- 
five thousand dollars he said. 

Then you promptly turned to the members of the Board, and one by 
one asked them if they would recommend that a contract be entered into 
for her construction with Captain Ericsson and his associates. Each 
one said, " Yes, by all means. " And then you told Captain Ericsson to 
start her immediately ; and the next day in New York a large portion of 
every article used in her construction was ordered, and a contract im- 
mediately entered into between Captain Ericsson and his associates and 
T. F. Eowland at Greenpoint, for the most expeditious construction of 
the most formidable vessel ever made. 

It was arranged that after a few days I should procure a formal 
documentary contract from the Naval Board, to be signed and executed 
by the Secretary of the Navy, Captain Ericsson, and associates. 

I regret that this part of the matter has been misunderstood and 
misjudged, as though you had made terms heavier or the risk greater 
than you ought. The simple fact was that after we had entered upon 
the work of construction, and before the formal contract had been 
awarded, a great clamor arose, much of it due to interested parties, to 
the effect that the battery would prove a failure and disgrace the mem- 
bers of the Board for their action in recommending it. 

For their own protection, therefore, and out of their superabundant 
caution, they insisted on inserting in the contract a clause requiring 
us to guarantee the complete success of the battery, so that in case 
she proved a failure Government might be refunded the amounts ad- 
vanced to us from time to time during her construction. To Captain 
Ericsson and myself this was never an embarrassment. But to Mr. 
Winslow, as indeed to Mr. Griswold also, it seemed that the Board had 
asked too much. But I know that the noble old Admiral Smith never 
intended that we should suffer. And among the many fortunate things 
that the nation had occasion to be grateful for like the providential 
selection as President in those dark days of the immortal Lincoln, who 
knew how to select a man for the head of the navy who united diplo- 
matic skill and judgment with absolute promptness, with a private 
Secretary [Mr. W. Faxon], who never left his desk at night -with a thing 
undone that could be done to assure success that day was the appoint- 
ment of Admiral Smith to the charge of the Navy Yards, "who always 
seemed to sleep with one eye open, so constant was Ms watchfulness 
and so eager his desire that the entire navy should be always in readi- 
ness to do its part in the overthrow of the Bebellion. 


I am confident that no native-born child of this country \vill ever 
forget the proud son of Sweden, who could sit in his own house and 
contrive the three thousand different parts that go to make up the com- 
plete hull of the steam battery Dictator, so that when the mechanics 
came to put the parts together not a single alteration in any particular 
was required to be made. 'What the little first monitor and the subse- 
quent larger ones achieved is a part of history. 

One of my associates as noble and generous a man as it is the lot 
of one ever to meet on earth John A. Griswold, has gone to his rest, 
and fast shall we each and all follow, but it may be a pleasure to those 
who should love our memory to find with your preserved records of those 
trying times this memorandum of the unrecorded private negotiations 
that resulted in the opportune meeting of the " cheese-box." on a raft 
with the ponderous Merrimac at Hampton Boads March 9, 1862.* 

Ericsson proceeded to Washington on tlie night of Septem- 
ber 13, 1861, arriving there the next morning after the tedious 
journey in ill-ventilated and over-crowded cars, which was the 
penalty of a summons to the capital in those days. "With 
him journeyed the usual crowd of soldiers hastening to join 
their regiments ; office-seekers, loaded down with testimonials as 
to their "claims ; " civilians of every grade eager to enlighten 
the Government with their wisdom, to assist it with offers of 
service, or to worry it with crude suggestions as to the conduct 
of the war. To the authorities of Washington the great en- 
gineer was only one of the motley gathering of patriots, to 
whose suggestions, to whose entreaties, and to whose reproaches 
even they had grown accustomed and indifferent. He proceed- 
ed at an early hour upon his arrival in the capital to the Navy 
Department. Describing his reception there, in a private letter 
he says : 

YOBK, November 16, 1877. 
MY DEAB SIK : I .enclose extract of Mr. Bushnell's letter to Ex-Sec- 
retary Welles concerning the Monitor, As Mr. B. only relates his own 
personal experience, I have to add that on going to Washington and 
entering the room occupied by the Board over which Commodore 
Smith presided I was very coldly received, and learned to my surprise 
that said Board had actually rejected my Monitor plan, presented by Mr. 
Bushnell. Indignant, my first resolve was to withdraw, but a second 
thought prompted me to ask why the plan was rejected. Commodore 

* This is printed from a MS. copy found among Ericsson's papers. 


Smith at once made an explanation showing that the Tessel lacked sta- 
bility. This wanned me up, inducing me to enter on an elaborate dem- 
onstration proving that the vessel had great stability. My blood being 
well up, I finished my demonstrations by thus addressing the Board : 

" Gentlemen, after what I have said, I deem it your duty to the 
country to give me an order to build the vessel before I leave the 

The three commodores then entered into some conversation among 
themselves which I did not take note of, at the conclusion of which I 
was asked to call again at 1 P.M. On making my appearance Commodore 
Paulding called me into his room and in a very cordial manner asked 
me to repeat my explanation about the stability of the vessel. I com- 
plied, having in the meantime drawn a diagram presenting the question 
in a very simple form. My explanation lasted about twenty minutes, at 
the end of which the frank and generous sailor said : 

" Sir, I have learned more about the stability of a vessel from what 
you have said than I ever knew before." 

Commodore Smith then desired me to call again later in the day. 
On making my second appearance I was asked to step into Secretary 
Welles's room, who briefly told me that the commodores had reported 
favorably and that accordingly he would have the contract drawn up 
and sent after me to New York, desiring me in the meantime to proceed 
with the work. I returned at once, and before the contract was com- 
pleted the keel-plate of the intended vessel had already passed through 
the rollers of the mill. Little did I dream that the contract would con- 
tain a clause compelling my associates to guarantee the success of the 
vessel, and in case of the stipulations about invulnerability, etc., etc., not 
being fulfilled, to refund the money advanced by the Department dur- 
ing the progress of the work. Had Secretary Welles on calling me 
into his room told me that such a guarantee would be demanded, the 
Monitor would not have been built. 

One word more. The Monitor was brought under the enemy's -guns 
at Hampton Eoads before the last instalment of the contract had been 
paid ! 

The foregoing will enable you to form your own judgment as to the 
merit due to the Navy Department in the Monitor matter. Let me ob- 
serve, however, that in building other vessels I was warmly and cordially 
supported by the Assistant Secretary, Mr. G. V. Fox. 

Yours very truly, 


P.S. I have had neither time nor inclination to make a fair copy of 
the foregoing communication in my own hand. 

Captain E. P. DOBB, Buffalo. 



Partnership with Messrs. Bushnell, Winslow, and Griswold. Interview 
with Thomas F. Rowland. Laying the Keel of the Monitor. 
Building and Launching of the Vessel. Mishaps by -the Way. 
Herculean Labors. Doubts and Criticisms of Commodore Smith. 
Payments for the Vessel Delayed. Cost and Profit. 

IN a letter written April 25, 1862, Ericsson said : "A more 
prompt and spirited action is probably not on record in 
a similar case than that of the Navy Department, as regards 
the Monitor. The committee of naval commanders appointed 
by the Secretary to decide on the plans of gunboats laid before 
the Department occupied me less than two hours in explaining 
my new system. In about two hours more the committee had 
come to a decision. After their favorable report had been made 
to the Secretary I was called into his office, where I was detained 
less than five minutes. In order not to lose any time the Sec- 
retary ordered me to * go ahead at once ! ' Consequently, 
while the clerks of the Department were engaged in drawing up 
the formal contract the iron which now forms the keel-plate of 
the Monitor was drawn through the rolling mill." This was 
said at a time when, the country was all aglow with the success 
of Ericsson's opportune little vessel, and it does not conflict 
with the fuller statement of a later date in the last chapter. 

The keel was laid October 25, 1861, steam was applied to 
the engines December 30th, the Monitor * was launched Jan- 

* The origin of the name is explained by this letter to Gustavus V. Fox, 
Assistant Secretary of the Nayy : 

KEW YORK, January 20, 1862. 

Sm : In accordance with your request, I now submit for your approbation 
a name for the floating battery at Greenpoint. The impregnable and aggres- 
sive character of this structure will admonish the leaders of the Southern Re- 
bellion that the batteries on the banks of their rivers will no longer present 


uary 30, 1862, and practically completed February 15, 1862. 
She went on her first trial trip arid was turned over to the 
Government February 19, 1862. She was put into commission 
under the command of Lieutenant John L. Worden, TLSJN"., 
February 25, 1862. Her steering gear was adjusted on a 
second trial ; on her third, March 4th, she tried her guns, and 
a board of naval officers who conducted the trial reported fa- 
vorably upon her performance. Professor MacCord, who was 
Ericsson's assistant at the time he built the Monitor, has given 
some interesting particulars of the circumstances attending its 

Ericsson followed it with keen and critical eye until the launch, and 
then his visits to the ship-yard became infrequent. As the "Monitor 
type " of engine had already been fully tested in the Judith, the Day- 
light, and in other vessels, he contented himself with the report of 
the Government engineers on the one in the new battery. When the 
trial trip came, neither engine nor steering gear worked properly, and 
one of the daily papers made it the text of a " crushing " article under 
the heading of " Ericsson's Folly." Her designer was called an incapa- 
ble schemer, and sternly rebuked for the sin of wasting the resources of 
the country. 

The motive engines were not in proper adjustment, the steering 
gear would not work freely, and between the two the vessel proved un- 

The events of that dismal day must have vexed Ericsson's very soul, 
but the manner in which he bore them was strikingly characteristic. 
Had they been trifling things he would have been exasperated, as his 
custom was, and exasperating, too, when small affairs went wrong ; but 
under heavy burdens his broad shoulders never bent, and he looked al- 
ways squarely in the face of grave misfortunes with calm and resolute 
eyes. It is true that on his return to Franklin Street, where he then 
resided, there was a somewhat portentous cloud upon his face, and no 
wonder ; but it was not the forerunner of a storm. 

barriers to the entrance of the Union forces. The iron-clad intruder will 
thus prove a severe monitor to those leaders. But there are other leaders who 
will also be startled and admonished by the booming of the guns from the im- 
pregnable iron turret. u Downing Street" will hardly view with indifference 
this last " Yankee notion," this monitor. To the Lords of the Admiralty the 
new craft will be a monitor, suggesting doubts as to the propriety of complet- 
ing those four steel clad ships at three and a half million apiece. On these 
and many similar grounds, I propose to name the new battery Monitor. 

Your obedient servant, 



The drawings, for whose accuracy the draughtsman was re- 
sponsible, were found to be correct and the error was traced to 
a superintendent of the engine works, whom Captain Ericsson 
had once described as " too stupid to make a blunder." His er- 
ror was so quickly rectified that it alone would not have delayed 
the vessel. The rudder was found to be somewhat over-bal- 
anced, the weight forward of the rudder-post being too great. 
It was not the time nor was Ericsson the man to indulge in 
idle speculations as to the cause of this error, but, says Pro- 
fessor MacCord, "had he adopted the remedy suggested to him 
it is morally certain that the battle between the giant and the 
pygmy would not have occurred when and where it did. This 
remedy was neither more nor less than the replacing of the 
balanced rudder by one of different form. I do not know 
where the idea originated, nor do I say that any formal pro- 
posal was made, but in sbme way the Captain became aware of 
an intention of the naval authorities to have the vessel put in the 
dry-dock and fitted with a new rudder. The hot Scandinavian 
blood flushed his cheek, his eyes gleamed, his brow darkened ; 
and this time the storm broke in all its fury. With the full 
volume of his tremendous voice, and with a mighty oath, he 
thundered : ' The Monitor is MINE, and I say it shall not be 
done.' Presently he added, in a tone of supreme contempt : 
c Put in a n,ew rudder ! They would waste a month in doing 
that; I will make her steer just as easily in three days. 3 My 
recollection is that it was done in less -time. No change in the 
rudder was even thought of, and the change in the steering- 
gear was the simplest possible. . . . Considering how pre- 
cious were the moments then, the suggestion of a new rudder 
might well excite his indignation and disgust. But the Captain's 
wrath was chiefly roused bj r the idea of any official interference 
with the vessel, as yet unpaid for and wholly in his own hands ; 
which was perfectly natural in view of his treatment by the 
Government in this and other matters." 

To add to the chapter of blunders, Engineer Stimers on the 
trial trip temporarily disabled both gun-carriages by turning 
the compressor wheels the wrong way. Far the most impor- 
tant of these mishaps, that fixed the hour of the Monitor's ap- 
pearance at the very crisis of fate, " was the trouble with the 


steering-gear, though from the simplicity of the remedy it might 
appear the most insignificant ; and it was this that brought 
into the boldest relief the prominent traits of the Captain's 
character. His keen mechanical instinct, quick decision, firm- 
ness^ of resolve, his fiery spirit, his energy in action, were all 
conspicuous ; but all these were dominated by self-reliance and 
his pride in originality. 

" He loved to do his own work in his own way, and his 
fertility of expedient was something marvellous ; to quote 
his own words on another occasion, 'If I ever do get into 
a scrape, I know exactly how to get out of it;' and men un- 
like him, as most men are, were more likely than he to follow 
the lines laid down by others. He had said, ' The Monitor 
is mine, 3 and his she was, in another and to him a far dearer 
sense ; from turret to keel-plate, from rudder-shoe to anchor- 
well, every distinctive feature was the creation of his brain, 
every detail was stamped with the evidence of his handi- 

Under the hand of the master the work upon the battery 
was pushed to a speedy completion, in spite of miscarriages that 
would have been fatal to less able management. " They are 
amazed at Washington," wrote Mr. Griswold on January 8th, 
"that within the hundred days the battery will be com- 

Ericsson was officially notified, by letter dated September 
21, 1861, that his proposition for an iron-clad gunboat had been 
favorably reported upon, and the actual contract for the con- 
struction of the battery was agreed upon October 4, 1861. On 
September 27, 1861, by formal contract with Messrs. Bushnell, 
Griswold & "Winslow, he stipulated that all net profits or losses 
were to be divided equally among the four, the three associates 
agreeing to advance all money needed for the construction of 
the vessel. It was also agreed that in the event of the further 
construction of similar batteries the same division of loss or 
profits was to be made. 

There was at this time at G-reenpoint on the East River, 

* Ericsson and His Monitors, by Professor Charles W. MaoOord (formerly 
Chief Draughtsman for Captain John Ericsson), North. American Review, 
.October;- 1889. 


opposite New York, a young man named Thomas F. Eowland, 
who had just commenced business as a ship -builder. He was 
full of energy and enterprise, anxious to identify himself with 
Government work, and had visited Washington with the model 
of a vessel he proposed to build, having a turret mounted on a 
railroad turntable. Though he carried with him an influen- 
tial letter of introduction, he was not able to get near enough 
to the Secretary of the Navy to present his plan until he met 
Mr. Welles one evening at Willard's Hotel ; then he had the 
satisfaction of securing a prompt hearing, and an equally 
prompt rejection of his proposals. On his return to New York, 
Mr. Eowland was invited by Captain Ericsson to call upon him 
at his office in Franklin Street. There he was shown the model 
sent to Napoleon in 1854, and satisfied that he could claim no 
priority for his idea of a turret. He was next informed of the 
order received from the Government for an iron-clad battery. 
Then turning to him, Ericsson said, " You want money ; I want 
fame. You can do the mechanical work on this vessel in your 
ship-yard, but it is my conception, and it must be understood 
that it was built here in my parlor." After some discussion it 
was agreed that 7i cents a pound should be paid for the work 
upon the hull, and on October 25th an agreement to that effect 
was entered into between John Ericsson and his associates, and 
Thomas P. Eowland, Continental Iron Works, Greenpoint, 
New York. 

Another account states that on the day preceding this in- 
terview three strangers had appeared at Mr.'Eowland's works 
and sounded him upon the subject of the price he would 
charge for building the hull of an iron vessel, suggesting 4 
cents per pound. When he called upon Ericsson the next 
day he found the great engineer with head and body bent 
over his drawing-table absorbed in his work upon the Monitor 
plans. Glancing from his work for an instant, Ericsson said 
abruptly : 

" Tom, my boy, what are you going to charge me to build 
my iron vessel? " Thinking of his previous interview with his 
interrogators, who proved to be Messrs. Winslow, Griswold & 
Bushnell, Eowland answered at a venture: "Nine cents a 
pound." "Tut., tut, Tom ! " cried Ericsson, without lifting his 


eyes from his work, " it must be done for ty cents ; " and this 
was the price agreed upon. 

The contract with Mr. Rowland stipulated that the work 
was to be done to the satisfaction of Captain Ericsson, who re- 
served the right to determine what number of men should be 
employed, and the number of hours they must work to com- 
plete the contract in the shortest possible time, this being "in 
consideration of the liberal price paid." 

"Work was commenced on the day the contract was signed, 
October 25, 1861. The vessel was launched at Mr. Rowland's 
risk, and to prevent it from plunging under water when it slid 
from the ways, he constructed large wooden tanks to buoy up 
the stern as it entered the water. The turret was entrusted to 
the Novelty Iron "Works, and all the machinery to Delamater 
& Co. By this division of labor work was hastened, still fur- 
ther time being gained by pushing the men night and day. 
The vessel in all of its parts was designed by Ericsson. Hull, 
turret, steam machinery, anchor-hoister, gun-carriages, etc., all 
were built from working drawings made by his own hands, fur- 
nishing the rare example of such a structure in all its details 
emanating from a single man. " The allegation that I received 
aid in designing the Monitor, and other work during the war," 
said Ericsson, in a letter of May 28, 1877, to General George 
B. McClellan, " is absolutely false. The entire labor of pre- 
paring the original working plans was performed by myself, 
every line being drawn by my own hand." 

The details were sufficiently numerous. Besides keeping 
the several establishments at work, the terms of the agreements 
with Mr. Rowland and the Novelty Works required that they 
should be provided with the material which they were to put 
into shape for the hull and the turret-plates, bars, rivets, etc. 
Everything had been so carefully arranged by the able engi- 
neer that no trouble or delay was experienced in carrying out 
his part of the undertaking. "Within one hundred working 
days from laying the keel-plates of the hull, the vessel was com- 
pleted and the engines put in motion under steam. No greater 
despatch is recorded in the annals of mechanical engineering. 
The battery would have been finished even sooner than it was 
had the Government been more prompt in its payments under 


the contract, and enabled the contractors to keep a larger part 
of their force busied nights as well as dajs.* 

Though the work was done in haste it was not done care- 
lessly or incompletely. Time was saved, not by neglect of 
necessary finish but by simplifying the design of the vessel in 
every way to meet the required conditions. Thus the hull was 
merely an iron tank, with the sides sloping, instead of being 
rounded, so as to admit of employing ordinary mechanics un- 
der proper supervision. Good workmen were scarce, for the 
dominant military spirit had called to the field of battle the 
best men in every calling. While the work progressed at 
Greenpoint, L. I., Ericsson was there every day superintending 
it, and nearly all day. In the early morning, before going to 
the ship-yard, and far into the night after his return, he was 
occupied at his desk, drawing plans, preparing specifications, 
and conducting a constant correspondence with the Navy De- 
partment and others. A story is told in this connection illus- 
trating his extraordinary physical strength. During one of his 
visits of inspection he tripped over a heavy bar of iron. Turn- 
ing to two workmen, he asked them to remove it ; but they 
said it was too heavy. Nettled at this refusal, and as if in con- 
tempt for the excuse, he made no reply, but stooping he picked 
up the bar with his own hands, carried it without assistance 
across the shop, and threw it on a scrap-heap. Amazed at this 
display of energy on the part of a sexagenarian the men pro- 
cured assistance at noon time and weighed the bar, finding that 
it showed upon the scale nearly six hundred pounds. 

From Ericsson's desk the drawings, numbering at least one 
hundred, went directly to the workshop, without waiting to be 
traced. Tet the plans were none of them mere copies from 

* A similar feat had previously been performed in England, according to 
Sir Thomas Brassey, when in 1855-56, during the Crimean war, three iron- 
clad floating batteries of 2,000 tons burden and 300 horse-power, the Thunder- 
bolt, Erebus^ and Terror, were built by private ship-yards in three months. 
What he includes in the term built he does not explain however. The 
Monitor was a vessel of 776 tons. Her extreme length was 172 feet; 
breadth, 41| feet ; depth of hold, 11$- feet ; draught of water, 10 feet ; 
inside diameter of turret, 20 feet ; height of turret, 9 feet ; thickness of 
turret, 8 inches ; side armor, 5 inches ; deck plating, 1 inch ; diameter of 
propellers (2), 9 feet ; diameter of steam cylinders, 36 inches ; length of 
stroke. 26 inches. 



existing models. Every tiling had to be contrived anew, to meet 
the wholly novel conditions of life in a submerged structure. 
Even the waste of the ship's crew was gotten rid of by an in- 
genious contrivance, with an air-pump attached. By this 
means the natural law of hydrostatics was so far overcome as 
to admit of openings in the hull below the water-line. Waste 
matter was dropped into a pipe closed at the lower end. The 
upper end of the pipe was then shut, the lower end opened in 
its turn and the force-pump turned on, 'driving out the water 
in the pipe with its contents. A ship's surgeon who omitted 
an essential part of this ceremonial found himself suddenly pro- 
jected into the air at the end of a column, of water rushing up 
from the depths of the ocean and pouring into the ship. 

The Original Monitor. 

It was estimated by Isaac Newton, the first engineer of the 
Monitor, that she contained at least forty patentable contriv- 
ances. Ericsson was urged by Mr. Newton to secure patents 
for these, but he declined to do so. He was strangely neglect- 
ful all through life of this means of protecting his property 
rights. Numerous as were his patents, they by no means rep- 
resented the full measure of his ingenuity, and many of them 
were taken out to secure for himself, as well as for others, the 
right to use his own inventions. 

Ericsson's inventions were not the result of waking dreams, 
but of the studious application of the resources of a mind well 
stored with engineering and mechanical lore to the solution of 
new problems. He did not disregard precedent or experience, 
but he compelled them to his service instead of following them 
with blind obedience. It was his habit to wait until he was 


ready to present his engineering conceptions in practical form 
before announcing them. Thus they had opportunity to ripen 
in his mind and to gain in clearness and completeness with 
growing experience. The conception of a Monitor ( 5 as part of 
his mental history, was nearly half a century old when it was 
put into execution to meet the exigencies of war. 

" You assume correctly," he wrote to Mr. Gr. V, Fox, on Oc- 
tober 5, 1875, "that the plan of the Monitor was based on the 
observations of the behavior of timber in our great Swedish 
lakes. I found that while the raftsman in his elevated cab- 
in experienced very little motion, the seas breaking over his 
nearly submerged craft, these seas at the same time worked 
the sailing vessels nearly on their beam ends." 

Working as he did, from first to last, upon plans already 
matured in his own mind, if they were not committed to paper, 
Ericsson always resented the imputation that his Monitor must 
be an imperfect vessel because it was built in haste. "No im- 
provement," he said in 1867, "has been made in the original 
Monitor. On the contrary, that vessel was both theoretically 
and practically a more perfect vessel for defence than any of 
the numerous monitors afterward built by me, excepting only 
the pilot-house." This was said in a letter written by his sec- 
retary at his dictation, and concluding as follows : 

"Respecting this structure, Captain Ericsson particularly 
directs me to say, in reply to your impertinent insinuation that 
the present pilot-house of the monitor vessels is not his inven- 
tion, that it originated with him and was perfected by him, and 
that whoever insinuates that this structure in its conception, 
theory, and every part of its detail, is not the invention of Cap- 
tain Ericsson, utters a gross falsehood." 

An entry in Ericsson's diary showed that in August, 1861, 
previous to the acceptance of his plans by the Navy Depart- 
ment, he spent a day in planning a stationary pilot-house to be 
placed on the top of the revolving turret.* Time did not admit 
of the introduction of this feature into the original Monitor, 
and it was reserved for tise in those of later construction. The 
complications involved in adapting it to its intended position, 

* A copy of this entry was published by Captain Ericsson in the Army and 
Navy Journal. 


as well as the lightness of the original turret, made it necessary 
to adopt the necessary expedient which was justly subjected to 
the criticism of those who had to fight the Monitor. It is not 
true, however, that the plan of putting the pilot-house on top 
of the turret was first suggested by the engineer of the Monitor, 
after the vessel had gone into action. 

Necessary changes were made in the plans of the vessel as 
the work progressed, to meet the emergencies of the time, and 
when she was completed slight defects were discovered, but 
these were easily remedied. The constructor was favored with 
numerous suggestions for change and supposed improvement, 
none of which were heeded. 

Ericsson's work during that three months was herculean. 
Nerves and sinews needed to be of steel. The least halting, 
even trifling delay, confusion of rnind, or weakness of body, and 
the story of Hampton Roads might not have been written. It 
was well for the United States that the question how to build 
an impregnable fighting vessel was entrusted to an engineer 
of such versatility, thorough experience, and freedom from 
prejudice in favor of existing forms. The entire resources of 
modern engineering knowledge were thus brought to bear upon 
the solution of the problem of an impregnable battery, armed 
with guns of the heaviest calibre then known, hull shot-proof 
from stem to stern, rudder and propeller protected against the 
enemy's fire, and above all having the advantage of light 

It was proposed to build a vessel that could navigate the 
shallow Southern rivers, and the draught was limited to eleven 
feet. This absolutely compelled the adoption of the plan 
of a sunken hull. It was manifestly impossible to carry the 
weight required to protect a high-sided vessel. The adoption 
of a covered cylindrical turret followed logically, from the 
necessity for protecting guns and gunners. The plan of revolv- 
ing this turret on a vertical axis, was adopted to secure an all- 
around fire while the vessel remained stationary, as it. was 
clearly impracticable to manoeuvre the battery in narrow 
rivers. The slight draught of the vessel brought the propeller 
and rudder near the surface ; to protect these the deck was 
extended over the hull at the stern and also at the bow, where 


the anchor, hanging in a cylindrical well, could be lowered arid 
lifted by machinery within the hull without exposing the 

The steam machinery, as well as the quarters of the crew, 
were located below the water-line to protect them against shot, 
and they were further protected by extending the armored part 
of the vessel some distance over the sides. With this overhang, 
shot could not reach the vulnerable hull. . Thus, as J. Scott 
Russell in his work on "Naval Architecture" declares, the 
Monitor is " a creation altogether original, peculiarly American ; 
admirably adapted to the special purpose which gave it birth. 
Like most American inventions, use had been allowed to dic- 
tate terms of construction, and purpose, not prejudice, has 
been allowed to rule invention." The monitors are, Mr. 
Russell further says, " successful by the rigidity and precis- 
ion with which they fit the end and fulfil the purpose which 
was their aim. By thus frankly accepting the conditions he 
could not control, the American did his work and built his 

The Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, who rep- 
resented the Navy Department in the construction of the 
Monitor, was Commodore Joseph Smith, a noble sailor who 
had grown old in the service which he entered as a midship- 
man in the year 1809. He had been an officer for more than 
half a century, was thoroughly in sympathy with the traditions 
and prejudices of his profession, and though the earnest elo- 
quence and able demonstration of Ericsson had for the moment 
convinced his judgment, there was an under-current of doubt, 
and this kept him constantly uneasy and distrustful. " The 
old Commodore is fidgety at times," wrote one of Ericsson's 
friends from Washington, " and may provoke you by his own 
anxieties, but he has confidence in you, and he has no confi- 
dence in anybody else. So give the old man his tether, and 
let him fret a little when he feels like it." 

This encouragement to forbearance seems to have been 
needed, for the suggestions, doubts, and forebodings showered 
upon Ericsson from Washington, must have been trying to a 
man so overwhelmed with the responsibilities of a venture- 
some undertaking, in the success -of which was involved not 


only his own reputation but the interests of a nation. Septem- 
ber 25, 1861, Commodore Smith wrote : 

I am in great trouble from what I have recently learned, that the 
concession in the turret will be so great that men cannot remain in it 
and work the guns after a few fires with shot. I presume you under- 
stand the subject better than I do. 

It would have, been well if he could have rested content 
with this conclusion, but his own conversion was recent, if 
hopeful, and his convictions were too feeble to enable him to 
resist the doubting suggestions of others. Ericsson's judgment 
upon this point was not founded on theory ; it was the result 
of personal experience in firing heavy guns from little huts 
while he was an officer in the Swedish army. Yet he had the 
greatest difficulty in dispelling this obvious fallacy, as to the 
effect of firing guns in a turret with muzzle protruding, and it 
is not strange, that Commodore Smith should have been affected 
by it. A few days later, October llth, he wrote : 

I understand that computations have been made by expert naval 
architects of the displacement of your vessel, and the result arrived 
at is that she will not float with the load you propose to put upon 
her, and if she would she could not stand upright for want of stability, 
nor attain a speed of four knots. Belying upon your calculations, I 
had no computation of displacement made. I have had some mis- 
giving as to her stability as well as sea-worthiness on account of the 
abrupt termination of iron to the wooden vessel ; I have thought the 

angle should have been filled up with wood thus, . . 

to ease the motion of the vessel in rolling. I be- 
lieve when you look into cause and effect you will 
come to the same conclusion. But if the whole 
thing is to be a failure this will be of little conse- 
quence. I am extremely anxious about the success of this battery. 
The Government wants some dozen of them if they prove successful. 
I want to go to New York, but I am now so afflicted with rheumatism 
I can but barely walk. 

This was a personal letter, and in an official communication 
dated the same day Ericsson was reminded that^ " You are re- 
sponsible for the successful working of your vessel in all its 
parts/' Three days later it was suggested that the vessel would 
" prove a failure," as the anxious Commodore had calculated her 


displacement and found that she would not float. His estimate 
of her displacement was thirteen hundred tons ; the actual dis- 
placement of the vessel, when launched and in fighting trim, 
with her stores, guns, and ammunition on board, was one thou- 
sand tons with 321 square feet of immersed midship section. 
The Commodore suggested such a change in the vessel as 
might in his opinion " save her from the possibility of fail- 
ure ; " but which would, in the judgment of her better informed 
designer, have sacrificed one of the essential features of his 

" I shall be subjected to extreme mortification," wrote Com- 
modore Smith in this letter, " if the vessel does not come up 
to the contract in all respects ; having taken for granted as 
correct your statement of the power and capacity of the battery, 
without going into the calculations of weight and displacement, 
and relying on the validity of the contract, I assumed a great 
responsibility in recommending in haste (to meet the demands 
of the service) your plan. Your specifications state the engine 
to have a power of four hundred horse. I am advised that 
that power will not give the speed you guarantee. I am aware 
of your known reputation for scientific and practical skill as an 
engineer, hence the reliance I placed upon you." 

It does not appear to have occurred to the worthy Commo- 
dore that " extreme mortification," trying as that must be, 
would be one of the least of Ericsson's sufferings if he should 
fail in his great undertaking. And more than this, that he 
had a claim to honor, and confidence, and consideration beyond 
any that mere official position conld give him. With an enor- 
mous burden upon him, and every minute intensely occupied, 
Ericsson was obliged to deprive himself of necessary rest and 
sleep that he might act as schoolmaster for the naval veteran, 
and guide his timid steps along the path he was himself tread- 
ing with the assurance of ripened experience. On October 
llth, he sent to Commodore Smith this essay on stability, which 
he found frequent occasion to repeat in his after-experience 
with naval experts. 

I have the honor of laying before you the enclosed transverse section 
of my battery for the purpose of proving its stability. In order to do this 


in the simplest manner, the vessel is represented as being heeled over one 
foot at the extreme beam. By reference to the plan you will find that 
at this extent of heeling over, the centre of gravity of the turret with 
contents is 3 inches out of perpendicular, while the centre of gravity of 
the vessel and machinery, deviates from the perpendicular line If inch 
in the opposite direction. The weight of turret being less than one- 
third of that of the vessel and machinery, it follows that the latter over- 
balances the former, the effect of which is to put the vessel on even 
beam. The force required to heel the vessel over as represented on the 
plan, you will thus perceive, receives no aid from the leaning of the 

The exact amount of stability we can ascertain by calculating how 
much more water is displaced on the low than on the high side of the 
vessel. At the heeling over assumed, one foot, that quantity will be half 
the area of the vessel at water-line, or LS ^- 2,913 cubic feet, which 
divided by 35 (cubic feet per ton) gives 83 tons of water displaced on 
one side more than on the other. Now, the centre of gravity of the water 
thus displaced is 11 feet from the centre line, and hence at that point 
it would require a weight of 83 tons to heel the vessel as shown. Were 
the weight applied at the extreme beam, 46 tons only would be required 
46 tons is the weight of 690 men (at 15 men to the ton, the usual aver- 
age) and hence to heel my battery over a single foot, 690 men must 
stand at the very extreme of the deck. It will be safe to assert that 
there is not now in the service of the United States any vessel of equal 
size that can compare in stability to the vessel under consideration. 

Commodore Smith's reliance upon Ericsson's ability was not 
sufficient, however, to dispel his fears. " Excuse me for being 
so troublesome," he wrote October 15th, " but my great anxiety 
must plead my excuse. I have been urging the Ordnance De- 
partment to furnish the guns for your vessel, but the knowing 
ones say that the guns will never be used on her." " In a 
heavy sea," he wrote again, October 17th, "one side of the bat- 
tery will rise out of the water or the sea recede from it, and 
the wooden vessel underneath will strike the water with such 
force when it comes down or rolls back, as to knock the people 
on board off their feet." Unconvinced by Ericsson's demonstra- 
tions, the Commodore ended the discussion of this branch of 
the question by a letter dated October 19, 1861, in which he 
said oracularly : " We shall see, I have nothing more to say on 
the subject but that the Government will fall back on the con- 
tract in case of failure." 

But even this comfortable assurance was not sufficient to 


stay his criticism. Eeturning to the subject October 21st he 
said: < The more I reflect upon your battery, the more I am 
fearful of her efficiency." The " overhang " especially was full 
of gloomy suggestions, and he was confident that the iron plating 
of the battery would settle the sides of the wooden vessel be- 
neath "so that her deck would after a time become much 
curved and finally break." 

The prospect of asphyxia for the dwellers on the battery also 
disquieted the Bureau Chief. "Tour plan of ventilation ap- 
pears plausible," he wrote, " but sailors do not fancy living under 
water without breathing in sunshine occasionally. I propose 
a temporary house be constructed on deck which will not in- 
crease the weight of the vessel more than eight or ten tons." 
In answer to similar complaints of neglect of ventilation the 
answer was made that "more attention was paid to the ventila- 
tion of the first Monitor than to its fighting qualities." Commo- 
dore Smith's letters are quoted, not to reflect upon their author, 
bufc to show the encouragement under which Ericsson labored 
during this crisis of his life. Not a single word of good cheer 
appears in the series of letters sent to him from Washington, 
but he was kept constantly in mind that his fortune and his 
reputation would be the forfeit if he failed to fulfil the utmost 
letter of his contract. December 5, 1861, came a letter from 
the anxious Commodore saying : 

"I saw Mr. Everett to-day, who says your turret will not be 
ready to leave his shop short of thirty days. I beg of yon to 
push up the work. I shall demand heavy forfeiture for delay 
over the stipulated time of completion. You have only thirty- 
nine days left" 

The time stipulated in the contract was exceeded a few 
days, for Ericsson was not able to telegraph until January 
23d that the vessel was ready for launching. Meanwhile 
came a letter, dated January 14, 1862, saying, " the time 
for the completion of the shot-proof battery, according to 
the stipulations of your contract, expired on the 12th in- 

If the completion of the Monitor was delayed a few days 
beyond the date stipulated in the contract this fact would 
seem to be sufficiently accounted for by this communication 


addressed to Commodore Smith by Ericsson January 4, 1862 : 
" I beg most respectfully to observe that while the principal 
outlay has now been incurred in building the battery, only $37,- 
500 have as yet been paid by the navy agent, and that amount 
was not obtained until five weeks after the presentation of your 
order. In view of the large amount of funds thus called for 
from private sources, my contemplated organization and opera- 
tion by what is called night gangs has been to some extent 

The total contract price for the vessel was $275,000, and 
this was to be paid in five instalments of $50,000 each and one 
of $25,000, twenty-five per cent, being reserved from each pay- 
ment as security for the completion of the vessel. The war- 
rants for the first of these payments of $37,500 ($50,000 
less twenty-five per cent.) was drawn by the ISTavy Department 
November 25, 1861, and the others followed one another on 
the following dates, viz. : second payment, December 3d ; third, 
December 17th ; fourth, January 3, 1862 ; fifth, February 6th. 
Finally, March 3d, six days before the fight at Hampton Roads, 
a warrant for the sixth and last payment of $25,000 was drawn. 
But the dates drawing the warrants and of the actual receipt 
of the money were so widely separated that the fourth pay- 
ment was due before the money for the first had actually been 
received. This necessitated advances which Mr, Winslow, one 
of the associates, was able to make through his official connec- 
tion with a bank in Troy. 

An estimate in Ericsson's handwriting, dated December 26, 
1861, shows that on that date, and thus before the actual re- 
ceipt of the first money on Government account, $158,043.42 
had been expended on the battery. A portion of this was 
represented by bills not yet paid. This amount had increased 
on February 11, to $180,168, and there was owing, according to 
estimate, $14,832, making the total cost, as estimated at that 
date, $195,000. The actual figures were $195,142.60, leaving a 
net profit of $79,857.40. Of this Ericsson received as his one- 
fourth $19,964.35, besides $1,000 for engineering services. 
This result was due to the fact that he was not only a skilfnl 
engineer but an experienced constructor and contractor. "With 
the price of everything changing with the fluctuations of gold, 


and Government credit in doubt, it was a hazardous business to 
estimate upon Government work. 

The Bureau of Yards and Docks showed so strong a dispo- 
sition to hold the associates in the building of the Monitor to 
the strictest letter of their contract that Mr. Griswold, who was 
the banker of the concern, naturally became uneasy, and on 
February 1, 1862, wrote to Ericsson from Troy, as follows : 

I tliink we should take decided ground with the Navy Department 
that before we place our battery in their hands (before it passes from 
our possession) we must have the amount due us less the twenty-five 
per cent, reservation. Unless we do this there is no predicting when 
we shall get our pay. They want the battery at once, and if they take 
it the least they can do is to pay what is our due. On all considerations 
this should certainly 'be done. 

On February 8th the ever-vigilant Commodore Smith wrote 
from Washington an official letter, saying : 

I shall submit to the Secretary of the Navy whether or not further 
payments shall be approved and drawn for before a test of the vessel 
shall have been made, as the contract in regard to time has been for- 
feited. I trust the test will soon warrant the payment in full, but the 
Secretary must decide. I am aware that you have nsed your besfc exer- 
tions to forward the completion of the vessel. 

Fortunately the Secretary was liberal in his view of the 
case, and on March 5th, four days before the contest in Hamp- 
ton Roads, Commodore Smith wrote: "I enclose your bill 
for the sixth and last instalment approved for $18,750 ($25,- 

000 less twenty-five per cent.), and have this day drawn in favor 
of the navy agent at New York for that amount. 

The amount reserved was $68,750, and this was not paid, 
even by warrant, until March 14, 1862, or nearly a week after 
the Monitor had proved her quality in one of the most striking 
naval engagements the world has ever known, and the fame of 
Ericsson was sounded the world over. 

On October 26, 1861, Commodore Smith had written : 

You are the last man I desire to contest engineering questions with. 

1 am fully aware of your scientific knowledge, skill, and experience. In 
the matter of the success of the iron-clad vessels, my anxiety is very 


great. I make suggestions, offer objections which are only intended for 
your consideration, but in nowise to control your action. The respon- 
sibility rests with you, and I would not change it if I could. Excuse 
my interference thus far, if I have annoyed you, and I will be silent in 

The anxiety here expressed was shared by the entire Gov- 
ernment, and at Washington every stage in the progress of the 
vessel toward completion was watched with the keenest inter- 
est. The story of the progress of the Confederate ram Vir- 
ginia had come through the lines, and if faitli in the Moni- 
tor was not abounding she was all the country had to depend 
upon in the coming contest with the Southern iron-clad. It 
was with a sigh of relief no doubt that Ericsson's censor wrote 
from the Bureau of Yards and Docks on January 29th, just as 
the Monitor was completed : 

The Merrimac is out of dock and ready for her trial trip. I think 
the wrought-iron shot of the Ericsson battery will smash in her 2^-inch 
plates, provided she can get near enough to her, while the 9-inch shot 
and shells of the Merrimac will not upset your turret. Let us have the 
test as soon as possible, for that ship will be a troublesome customer to 
our vessels in Hampton Eoads. 

The criticisms of Commodore Smith, though always well 
meant, were sufficiently annoying. In spite of them the high- 
est praise is to be given to this gallant sailor for the measure 
of faith he had in the Monitor^ and his name will be associated 
with Ericsson's as that of one who helped him to his opportun- 
ity. The character of the man is illustrated by a story told of 
him in the account given by Gideon Welles of his experience 
as Secretary of the Tavy. 

On Sunday March 9> 1862, after the despatch had been 
received at Washington to the effect that the Merrimac had 
come out of Norfolk and destroyed the Cumberland and the 
Congress lying off Fort Monroe, Secretary Welles returned 
from the Department to his home, and stopping at St. John's 
Church, in front of the White House, called out Commodore 
Smith who was attending service there. He briefly related 
what had taken place and finally said that the Congress, com- 
manded by Smith's son, Joseph, had surrendered. " What ! " 


exclaimed the veteran, u the Congress surrendered ; then Joe is 
dead." The Secretary tried to calm his deep emotion, and told 
him that perhaps his son was saved. " Oh, no," he exclaimed, 
" you don't know Joe as I do he never would surrender his 
ship." And he did not. He was killed early in the action and 
his Jdag was struck by other hands. To such a father of such 
a son much more might well be forgiven. 



Professional Ignorance on the Subject of Armored Vessels. Ericsson's 
Mastery of the Subject. The Monitor Intended for Farragut's Fleet 
before New Orleans, Ordered to Washington. Stopped en route 
at Fort Monroe. Timely Arrival and Encounter with the Mem- 
mac. Turns the Tide of Battle. 

WHILE the Confederate Government at Richmond was 
paying from its lean treasury the expense of complet- 
ing an armor-clad, designed to break the blockade and secure 
the much-needed recognition of foreign governments, the 
Navy Department at Washington was trying to save a portion 
of its appropriation of a million and a half by throwing 
\ipon an association of private gentlemen the responsibility for 
the success or failure of the attempt which it had expressly 
sanctioned ,to meet the impending danger. Our beneficent 
Government assumed toward the man who had already ren- 
dered the country such essential service the attitude of the 
Oriental despot, who sends his soldiers to the field with the 
headsman following after as an admonition to zealous service. 

It is all very well for Ericsson to commend the promptness 
with which the Navy Department acted in accepting his ser- 
vices. It took good care, through its faithful servant Commo- 
dore Smith, to constantly remind him that the risk was his, 
and not the Nation's. " The Government requires ninety days in 
which to test the vessel," wrote the Commodore, September 30, 
1861. " So soon as the vessel is ready for service the Govern- 
ment will send her on the coast and put her before the enemy's 
batteries in the service for which you intend her. No other test 
can be made to prove the vessel and her appointments than 
that to whicU both parties agreed to expose her ; in fact, it is 
the gist of the intentions of the contracting parties. The plan 


Is novel, and because it is so, the Government requires the de- 
signer to warrant its success. Placing the vessel before an 
enemy's battery will test its capacity to resist shot and shell 
that is the least of the difficulties I apprehend in the success 
of the vessel, but it is one of the properties of the vessel which 
you set forth as of great merit. The Government cannot con- 
sent to receive the vessel until she shall have been tested in 
the manner proposed." 

In their report, dated September 16, 1861, the Board pre- 
sided over by Commodore Smith had made frank avowal of 
ignorance of the subject they were selected to consider, a con- 
fession only creditable to them because of its perfect ingenu- 
ousness. ls"o such ignorance prevailed in the Confederate 
Xavy Department, and if the facts were not known at Wash- 
ington it was only because our officials there refused to be en- 
lightened. In a letter to Commodore Smith's Board, dated 
September 3, 1861, Ericsson, speaking from his large experi- 
ence, had said : 

In laying before yon the accompanying plans and specifications of 
an impregnable battery for naval purposes I feel called upon to make 
the following remarks : 

The wrouglit-iron ordnance of twelve inches calibre, planned by the 
writer already in 1840, practically established the fact that iron plates of 
four and one-half inches thickness could not resist projectiles from such 
heavy guns. Previous to the experiments at Sandy Hook, which you will 
remember were made in 1841 with the ordnance alluded to, I had deter- 
mined theoretically that six inches thickness would be required to pro- 
tect ships against the same, and that iron-plates without wooden support, 
unless made even thicker, could not withstand continued firing. Accord- 
ingly, the revolving turret of my proposed battery is made eight inches 
thick, in addition to which the outward curvature of the turret will on 
dynamic considerations materially assist the resisting capability of the 
iron. Apart from the great strength of the turret, it should be borne in 
mind that but few balls will strike so accurately in the centre of the tur- 
ret as not to glance off by angular contact The United States may justly 
claim to have been far ahead of the naval powers of Europe, who have 
just found out what we demonstrated twenty years ago. 

"In respect to the impregnable nature of the battery proposed I 
will not enter on a demonstration before one so experienced as yourself. 
It will be all-sufficient merely to ask you to look carefully at the plan. 
It will, however, be proper for me to advert to the fact that the iron-clad 
vessels of France and England are utterly unable to resist elongated 


shot fired from the 12-inch guns of the battery. The 4^-inch plates of 
La Gloire or the Warrior would crumble like bz-own paper under the 
force of such projectiles, and at close quarters every shot would crush 
in the enemy's sides at the water-line. The opposing broadsides would 
be nothing more than the rattling of pebbles on our cylindrical iron tur- 
ret, which, by the way, we can make twelve inches thick, as we have 
some three hundred tons buoyancy to spare. A small number of these 
batteries will make our great Atlantic cities absolutely safe against at- 
tack from steel-clad friends on the other side. As for the rebel fleet, 
protected by the stolen guns at Norfolk, we can split it into matches in 
half an hour ; and as for the rebels at New Orleans, we can go and take 
a look at their cotton-bags whenever we please if they had a thousand 
guns mounted on the shore of their great river. 

So far as concerns the statements relating to the respective 
powers of armor and of guns, this was not speculation but the 
sober rehearsal of facts, and of facts which should have been 
understood at "Washington. The Emperor Kapoleon had al- 
ready made his experiments, and the results of the trials of 
armor and guns at Yincennes, and of those to which Ericsson 
called attention, were part of the naval record. The destruc- 
tive effect of shell firing against wooden ships had been demon- 
strated at Sinope in 1853, and even a quarter of a century 
earlier than this by the Russians during the Greek war of in- 
dependence. The naval attack upon Sebastopol had failed, 
and the proposed attack upon Cronstadt had been .abandoned, 
because of the inability of unarmored vessels to stand fire ; while 
even the imperfect batteries employed by the French at Kin- 
burn, October 17, 1855, had given a foretaste of the quality of 
iron-clad s. 

The necessity for adopting some new form of meeting the 
changed conditions of naval warfare was obvious to every in- 
structed observer ; and yet a proposition, coming from an en- 
gineer of approved ability in naval construction, and demon- 
strated by the strictest application of mathematical formulas, 
was objected to because it was " novel." There should have 
been ability somewhere in our Naval Administration to deter- 
mine the prospective value of Ericsson's plans, and they should 
have been either accepted or rejected ; and if accepted, the in- 
ventor should have been held bat to one condition, which was 
the fulfilment of the stipulations of his contract as to the eliar- 


acter of the vessel he was to present for acceptance. The risk 
of the result was for the Government to undertake, and espe- 
cially at such a crisis. 

It is marvellous that Ericsson should have accepted such 
conditions after the experience he had had of Washington 
methods. Nothing but the spirit to put " life itself" at the 
disposal of the Government could have prompted the venture. 
Commodore Smith proposed that he should turn his vessel over 
to men prejudiced in advance against it, and anxious, not to 
demonstrate its value, but to exaggerate to its discredit the ac- 
cidents and miscarriages attending the trial of a new and novel 
piece of machinery. 

It was Providence that decreed the success of the Monitor, 
and not the navy. During the period of peace preceding the 
war, our navy " was always grasping at the shadow and leaving 
the substance. The commodore of the period was an august 
personage who went to sea in a great flag-ship, surrounded by a 
conventional grandeur which was calculated to inspire a be- 
coming respect and awe. As the years of peace rolled on, this 
figure became more and more august, more and more conven- 
tional. The fatal defects of the system were not noticed until 
1861, when the crisis came, and the Service was unprepared to 
meet it ; and to this cause was largely due the feebleness of 
naval operations during the first year of the war. There seems 
to have been a total want of information at the central office of 
administration in reference to the existing demands of naval 
war, and the measures necessary to put the machine into ef- 
ficient operation." * 

"What a stirring up of dry bones there would have been 
could Ericsson have been given absolute control of naval ad- 
ministration ! But it was not to be. In spite of all the draw- 
backs, perhaps his services were quite as efficient in the sphere 
to which he was confined. Thanks to the success attending 
him in Hampton Roads, on March 9, 1862, he was able to se- 
cure for the United States the unprecedented experience of 
producing an entire fleet of war vessels, built on a new system, 
and snecessf ul for the purpose intended, without expending a 

* Professor J. B. Soley, now Assistant-Secretary of the Navy, in Battles 
and Leaders of the Civil War, vol. i. , p. 623. 


single dollar on preliminary experiments. This, too, while 
England and France were wasting millions in unsuccessful ef- 
forts to adapt their navy to modern conditions. From the 
storehouse of his own fertile invention, his own prolific ex- 
perience, Ericsson was able to produce, without hesitation or 
delay, every requirement for modern naval warfare. This 
record of his experiences has shown how complete was his 
equipment for the work in hand so far exceeding that of any 
living man. His difficulties, as we shall see, were not so much 
in himself as in the inability of others to understand and apply 
his far-reaching conceptions. 

Fortunately for the country, as well as for Ericsson, there 
was in the ISTavy Department, as assistant secretary, a gentle- 
man, Gustavus Vasa Fox, whose experience as a naval officer 
on coast survey duty, in command of mail steamers, and in the 
war with Mexico, had given him a knowledge of nautical mat- 
ters, and whose five years of civil life had dissevered him from 
the traditions and prejudices of the naval profession. It would 
appear that Mr. Fox was at first indisposed to accept Ericsson's 
ideas on the subject of armored vessels, or at least was more 
favorably inclined to those originating in the Navy Depart- 

Reporting the results of a visit to Washington, on behalf of 
Ericsson's battery, Mr. John F. Winslow wrote from Troy, 
January 10, 1862: 

While I cannot say that I found Mr. F. unfriendly, still there was at 
first a loftiness of manner toward us, and a confidence in the bureau 
plan, that was to me amusing ; yet, finding him to be a really able man, 
and of controlling influence in matters relating to his bureau, I was de- 
termined he should either convert me to the bureau plan, or I would 
him. to our plan, and therefore devoted all the time I could get him to 
appropriate to this object, and after more than five hours' consecutive 
discussion of all the points involved, I left him with an admission that 
he was only familiar with sailing and defending a ship ; that, as to the 
mechanics and architecture incident to a ship or steamer building, he 
professed to know but little, and so far as the mechanical and other ar- 
rangements of the Ericsson battery were concerned, he would concede to 
me that it appeared to embody all the features of success, and if on 
trial this was demonstrated, ours would be the plan to be adopted. This 
was the substance and meaning of his parting assurances to me, and 


though, it COS-T; me honrs of animated and earnest colloquial effort, yet 1 
made a convert of him, as I think, and felt abundantly compensated. 

This conversion appears to have been complete, for Mr. 
Fox soon became Ericsson's earnest champion, and when the 
success of his battery was demonstrated, he gave him his un- 
varying support, until the termination of his connection with 
the Department, in 1866. 

Of Mr. Fox, a member of Lincoln's cabinet said : 

Fox was really the able man of the administration. He planned the 
capture of New Orleans, the opening of the Mississippi, and in general 
the operations of the Navy. He had all the responsibility of removing 
the superannuated and inefficient men he found in charge, had the 
honor of selecting Farragut, and was often consulted by General Grant. 
He performed all his duties with an eye only to the requirements of the 
hour, and with no view to the advancement of any interest of his own. 
MJ. entered the service a poor man, and retired with a fort- 
une ; Mr. Pox abandoned a profitable position to assist the Government, 
and retired from office without a dollar in the world he could call his 

It seems to have been the intention at first to send the 
Monitor when completed to join the expedition against New 
Orleans. For this expedition Farragut received his orders on 
January 20, 1862, ten days before the launching of the Monitor, 
arriving off the mouth of the Mississippi in his flag-ship Hart- 
ford a month later, or after the completion of the battery, 
February 6, 1862. Ten days before the battery was finished 
Mr. Fox wrote to Ericsson a hasty note, asking : 

" Can your Monitor sail (steam) for the Gulf of Mexico by 
the 12th inst. ? " 

The alarming news of the approaching completion of the 
Virginia at Norfolk soon changed this purpose, for on "Wed- 
nesday, February 13th, Mr. Winslow wrote from Washington : 
" Mr, Fox told ns to-day he should be at Fort Monroe on ar- 
rival of the battery there, to witness her behavior in passing 
the batteries along Elizabeth River and Craney Island on her 
way up to Norfolk. He expects she will leave New York early 
next week, and that a vessel will be chartered to convey her to 
Hampton Boads." A week later, on February 21st, Mr. Fox tel- 


egraplied to Ericsson from Washington : " It is very important 
that you should say exactly the day the Monitor can be at 
Hampton Roads. Consult with Commodore Paulding." Lien- 
tenant Worden had hardly left the harbor of Isew York when 
orders came to change the destination of his vessel to Wash- 
ington. It was too late ; Commodore Paulding was unable to 
overtake him with the tug sent in hot pursuit. Similar 
orders were sent to the senior naval officer at Hampton 
Roads, Captain John Marston, U.S.ISr., but he was wise 
enough to disregard them, acting upon the military princi- 
ple that it is justifiable to disobey an order when it is obvious 
that it was given in such ignorance of the facts of the actual 
situation, that to carry it out literally would defeat the object 

The Monitor left "New York Harbor on the afternoon of 
March 6, 1862, in tow of a tug, and accompanied by two naval 
steamers, the Currituck and Sacliem. The wind was moderate 
and the sea smooth, but twenty -four hours later both had so 
increased that the waves swept the deck and forced the water 
in considerable quantities into the vessel through the hawse- 
pipes and under the turret, and broke over the smoke-pipe six 
feet high, and the blower pipe, rising here only four feet above 
the low deck. This stopped the blowers, and the furnaces hav- 
ing insufficient draught, the engine-rooms were filled with gas, 
and the engineer, Mr. Isaac Newton, and his assistants were 
so nearly suffocated that they were carried into the open air to 
the top of the turret, apparently lifeless. 

The machinery being temporarily disabled the hand-pumps 
were set at work and the men occupied in bailing until a 
smoother sea was reached, the blower-bands repaired, and the 
machinery once more' set in motion. These mishaps were the 
result partly of defects in construction easily remedied, and 
partly of want of experience in handling so novel a craft. The 
only man on board who thoroughly understood the characteris- 
tics of the vessel was Chief Engineer Alban C, S timers, U.S.N., 
the naval inspector of iron-clads, who was on board as a pas- 
senger only. The officers were : Lieutenants John L. Worden 
and Samuel Dana Greene; Masters, Louis N- Stodderand Joha 
J. N. Webber ; Assistant Surgeon, Daniel C. Logne ; Paymas- 


ter, W. F. Keeler ; First Assistant Engineer, Isaac Is ewton ; 
Second Assistant Engineer, Albert B. Campbell ; Third Assist- 
ant Engineers, E. W. Hands, M. T. Sunstrum. The crew of 
forty-three men were volunteers. 

The dramatic incidents attending the arrival of the Monitor 
at Hampton Eoads, on the evening of March 8th, have been 
fully described in contemporary annals. The story was told to 
Ericsson in a letter from Mr. Stimers, as follows: 

HAMPTON ROADS, March 9, 1862. 

MY DEAB SIR : After a stormy passage which proved us to be the 
finest sea-boat I was ever in, we fought the Merrimac for more than 
three hours this forenoon, and sent her back to Norfolk in a sinking 
condition. Iron-clad against iron-clad, we manoeuvred about the bay 
here, and went at each other with mutual fairness. I consider that both 
ships were well fought. We were struck twenty- two times, pilot-house 
twice, turret nine times, deck three times, sides eight times. The only 
vulnerable point was the pilot-house. One of your great logs (nine by 
twelve inches thick) is broken in two. The shot struck just outside of 
where the captain had his eye, and disabled him by destroying his left 
eye and temporarily blinding the other. The log is not quite In two, 
but is broken and pressed inward one and a half inch. She tried to 
run us down and sink us as she did the Cumberlcmd yesterday, but 
she got the worst of it. Her horn passed over our deck, and our sharp, 
upper-edged rail cut through the light-iron shoe upon her stem and 
well into her oak. She will not try that again. She gave us a tre- 
mendous thump, but did not injure us in the least, we were just able 
to find the point of contact. The turret is a splendid structure ; I 
don't think much of the shield, but the pendulums are fine things, 
though I cannot tell you how they would stand the shot, as they were 
not hit. 

You were very correct in your estimate of the effect of shot upon 
the man on the inside of the turret when it was struck near him. Three 
men were knocked down, of whom I was one. The other two had to 
be carried below, but I was not disabled at all, and the others recovered 
before the battle was over. Captain Worden stationed himself at the 
pilot-house, Greene fired the guns, and I turned the turret until the 
Captain was disabled and was relieved by Greene, when I managed the 
turret myself, Master Stoddard having been one of the two stunned 

Captain Ericsson, I congratulate you upon your great success ; thou- 
sands here this day bless you* I have heard whole crews cheer you ; 
every rrm feels that you have saved this place to the nation by furnish- 


ing us with the means to whip an iron-clad frigate that was, until our 
arrival, having it all her own way with our most powerful vessels. 
I am with much esteem, 

Very truly yours, 


95 Franklin Street, New York. 

In another account Mr. Stimers states that, during part of 
the voyage the sea was so high that the gunboats acting as 
convoys rolled so much that when they careened in one direc- 
tion he could see under the bilge, and when the deck was tow- 
ard him he could look down the main hold. " The motion 
of tlie Monitor was so easy and quiet that a glass inkstand 
stood upon a polished mahogany case on the table in the 
Captain's cabin, during the entire voyage, without slipping. 
At the same time the sea washed over the deck in the most 
terrific manner. All hands were at one time driven to the 
top of the turret by the escaping gas from the furnace fires. 
During the night the wire tiller ropes came off the wheel, 
and all hands were occupied during most of the night in 
hauling on the ropes by hand and readjusting them on the 

The " Greene" referred to in Mr. Stimers' letter was Lieu- 
tenant S. Dana Greene, a young officer of the Navy then in his 
twenty-third year. He had volunteered to go in the Monitor, 
notwithstanding the many gloomy predictions concerning her, 
and had been ordered to her as executive officer at the request 
of Lieutenant Worden. In his account of the voyage of the 
Monitor to Hampton Koads, Lieutenant Greene says : 

We left New York in tow of the tug-boat Seth Low at 11 A.M. on 
Thursday, March 6th, On the following day, a moderate breeze was en- 
countered, and it was at once evident that the Monitor was nnfife as a sea- 
going craft. Nothing bnt the subsidence of the wind prevented her 
from being shipwrecked before she reached Hampton Boads. The 
berth-deck leaked in spite of all we oonld do, and the water came down 
under the turret like a waterfall. It would strike the pilot-house and 
go over the turret in beautiful curves, and come through the narrow eye- 
holes of the pilot-house with such force as to knock the helmsman com- 
pletely round from the wheel. . . . Hie water continued to pour 
through the hawse-hole, and over and down the smoke-stacks and blower- 


pipes in sucli quantities that there was imminent danger that the ship 
would founder.* 

It was evident that Lieutenant Greene did not agree with 
Engineer Stimers' estimate of the Monitor as a fine sea- boat, 
and in an official report to the Department, March 27, 1862, 
lie said: "I do not consider this steamer a sea-going vessel. 
During her passage from New York her roll was very easy 
and slow, not at all deep. She pitched very little and with no 
strain whatever. She is buoyant, and not very lively. The 
inconveniences we experienced can be easily remedied. But 
she has not the steam power to go against a head-wind or 
sea. . . . For smooth water operations, such as she was 
engaged in on the 9th inst., I think her a most desirable ves- 

In criticising a similar discrepancy of statement between 
the engineer and the commander of a later Monitor, concern- 
ing the injuries received by his vessel, Ericsson said : "I should 
rather trust to the judgment of a skilful practical engineer as to 
the real damage done, than to the opinion of the gallant com- 
manders of these vessels, most of whom know nothing of 
mechanical matters. It has often given me pain to think that 
our fighting machines are entrusted to officers who know noth- 
ing of mechanics, and therefore have no confidence in their 

In replying to Lieutenant Greene's criticisms upon the 
Monitor^ he explains that he intended the sight-holes in the 
pilot-house to be five-eighths of an inch wide, affording a verti- 
cal view eighty feet high at a distance of only two hundred 
yards, and this his experiments had shown him was sufficient. 
A subsequent alteration in the sight-holes, accounted for the 
entrance of water, and for the injury done to the sight of the 
commander of the Monitor, by the explosion of a shell from 
the muzzle of a gnn not ten yards distant. 

Fortunately, the impression that the sight of one eye was 
destroyed was incorrect, though Worden will carry the scars 
of this fight with him to his grave. The turret of the Monitor 
was not earned on revolving rollers, but pivoted on the centre 

* Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, vol. L, p. 721. 


and slid on the smootli surface of a flat, broad ring of bronze, 
let in on the deck. Before the vessel left New York, some " ex- 
pert" at the Brooklyn JSavy Yard inserted a plaited hemp rope 
between the base of the turret and the bronze ring, to shut out 
the small amount of water entering there. It was expected 
that water would work its way through, as it was impossible 
to make a water-tight joint under a revolving turret, and 
pumps were provided to remove what little water entered. It 
was necessary to widen the space between the turret and its 
base in order to make room for the rope packing, and as this 
washed out the result was the leak around the whole circum- 
ference of the turret, sixty-three feet, referred to by Mr. Greene, 
through which " the water came down under the turret like a 
waterfall." The entrance of water through the hawse-pipe was 
not due to faulty construction ; it resulted, Ericsson declared, 
" from gross oversight on the part of the executive officer 
namely, in going to sea without stopping the openings around 
the chain cable at the point where it passes through the side 
of the anchor-well." * During the passage from ISTew York, the 
working gear of the turret was permitted to rust for want of 
proper cleaning and oiling, and it worked with so much diffi- 
culty during the engagement with the Memmac that, but for 
the energy and determination of Engineer Stimers, it might 
not have revolved at all. 

These are Ericsson's explanations, and such were some of 
the difficulties with which he contended in proving the value 
of his invention at the outset. Again, the timid ordnance of- 
ficers at Washington insisted on limiting to fifteen pounds the 
charge with the eleven-inch guns which was subsequently in- 
creased to fifty pounds. The wrought-iron shot intended for 
the vessel were not used. But for these departures from the 
design of Ericsson, Worden could have accomplished the ex- 
pected result of splitting " the rebel fleet into matches in half 
an hour." 

The veteran officer in command of the Jferrimac, Admiral 
Buchanan, C.S.N., had been badly wounded by a rifle ball 
from the shore, during the fight of the day before with the 

* See Ericsson's article on " The Building of the Howtor*' in Battles and 
Leaders of the Civil War, vol. i, p. 730. 


wooden vessels in Hampton Roads. His successor in command, 
Lieutenant Catesby Ap K. Jones, says of the Monitor : u She 
and her turret appeared to be under perfect control. Her 
light draught enabled her to move about us at pleasure. She 
once took a position for a short time where we could not bring 
a gun to bear upon her. Another of her movements caused us 
great anxiety ; she made for our rudder and propeller, both of 
which could have been easily disabled. TP"e could only see her 
guns when discharged ; immediately afterward the turret re- 
volved rapidly, and the guns were not again seen until they 
were fired. We wondered how proper aim could be taken in 
the very short time the guns were in sight. It did not appear 
that our shell had any effect on the Monitor. Musketry was 
fired at the look-out holes. She fired forty-one shots." * No 
serious damage was done to his vessel, he reports. 

" A Confederate soldier, who from a safe position saw the 
fight," describing his experience, says : 

And now we are at Newport News. The frigate Cumberland is struck 
below the starboard forecliains ; she ree]s, rolls, and goes down. And 
tlie flag of the Congress comes down by the run ; soon she will make a 
brilliant bonfire to illuminate the Boads. And now for the Minnesota, 
But just here the pilots insist upon bringing to anchor while yet the 
daylight lasts. Our anchor is down under Sewell's Point, our ship un- 
scratched by a pin. The fire of the Cumberland had killed two men and 
wounded five, and had also carried away the muzzles of two guns, but 
we never ceased firing them and the damage was wholly immaterial. 

In the early morning, Jones gets under way to finish the Minnesota. 
"We soon descry a strange-looking iron tower, sliding over the waters 
toward us, and we dash at it. It is the Monitor , which during the pre- 
vious night had come in from sea, and which by the light of the burn- 
ing Congress had been seen and reported by one of our pilots. 

Nearly two hours have passed, and many a shot and shell have been 
exchanged at close quarters with no perceptible damage to either. The 
Virginia is disconragingly cumbrous and unwieldy. To wind her for 
each, broadside fire, fifteen minutes are lost ; while during all this time, 
the Monitor is whirling around and about like a top, and by the easy 
working of her turret, and her precise and rapid movement, elicits the 
wondering admiration of all. She is evidently invulnerable to our 

Our next movement is to run her down. We ram her with all our 

* Southern Historical Society Papers, vol. xL, p. 21. 


force. But she is so flat and broad that she merely slides away from 
under our stern, as a floating door would slip away from tinder the cut- 
water of a barge ; all that we could do was to push her. Jones now de- 
termines to board her ; to choke her turret in some way and lash her to 
the Virginia. The blood is rushing through our veins while the shrill 
pipes and hoarse roar of the boatswains call " Boarders away ! " But lo ! 
our enemy has hauled off into shoal water, where she is as safe from our 
ship as if she were on the topmost peak of the Blue Eidge. Ten feet 
of water against twenty-two. The smoke from our gun was yet floating 
lazily away when Catesby Jones remarked to the writer: " The destruc- 
tion of those wooden vessels was a matter of course, but in not captur- 
ing that iron-clad, I feel as if we had done nothing ; " and yet, he added, 
"give me that vessel and I would sink this one in twenty minutes." 
Every watch officer in our squadron would engage, under the forfeiture 
of his head, with a monitor to sink a Virginia every thirty minutes from 
dawn to dewy eve. And this is said in no spirit of boasting. A Nelson 
or a Collingwood, finding the enemy's upper works invulnerable, might 
have tried the lower ones ; they certainly would have done something 
with the divine inspiration of genius to make the best ship win. But 
then, Nelsons and Collingwoods only appear every century or two. 

The Monitor was fought with plenty of spirit. She was also fought 
with a plentiful lack of judgment and common-sense, and ordnance- 
sense. The great radical blunder was in failing to concentrate her fire. 
In two instances a second shot, striking near the first, weakened our 
shield and caused the backing to bulge inward, and made it very manifest 
that a third or fourth shot would have gone through. In these cases the 
shot were delivered upon the strongest part of our roof ; and if they had 
struck her at water-line, where there was no protection whatever for the 
hull (for be it remembered that she had no knuckle), they would have 
gone through her as if she had been of paper. A fighting, wide-awake 
seaman makes the enemy's water-line his first target, and that proving 
invulnerable, the guns and the guns* crew the second. Now, the enor- 
mous weight of her shield and battery kept the Virginia all the time 
just hovering between floating and sinking ; a very few tons of water 
through the hole made by two, or even one, well-aimed shot from the 
splendid eleven-inch gun of the Monitor, and the Virginia would have 
gone to the bottom in five minutes. 

With such a gun, and at such short range, it would be no great feat 
for au intelligent side-boy to plant his shot every time in the space cov- 
ered by an ordinary straw hai The Virginia was so large a mark that 
almost every shot struck*her somewhere ; but they were scattered over 
the whole shield on both sides, and were therefore harmless. To point 
her gun in our direction and fire on the instant, without aim or motive, 
appeared to be the object. The turret revolving rapidly, the gun dis- 
appears only to repeat in five or six minutes the same hurried and 
necessarily aimless, unmeaning fire. She could assume and keep whatr 


ever position she pleased, for with her short keel and fine engines she 
conld play around us like a rabbit around a sloth. Once during the 
tight she took such a position that we could not bring a single gun to 
bear on her. Why did she not with common-sense keep it, and with 
perfect security, deliberately plant her shot where she pleased, almost 
to an inch ? 

She fired, all told, during the fight forty-one shots (taking her time, 
about one fire in six minutes), and any three of them properly aimed 
would hare sunk us, and yet the nearest shot to the water-line was over 
four feet. Our rudder and propeller were wholly unprotected, and a 
slight blow from her stem would have disabled both and ended the 
fight. Every time the Virginia went to cruise in the Boads under Tat- 
nail we bade her an affectionate good-by, we never expected to see her 
again. In short, considering that at noon on March 8, 1862, the Moni- 
tor was by immense odds the most formidable vesse] of war on this 
planet, and that our ship was comparatively a ship of glass, and that, 
doing us no harm and wholly unharmed herself after four mortal hours 
of battle, she runs away and gives us the fight, it is impossible to con- 
ceive in what manner she could have been more inefficiently fought.* 

"If that splendid invention, as we freely admit she was for 
smooth water, had been fought as she ought to have been," tins 
writer concludes, "it might have saved them 50,000 men. En- 
gaging our handful with a few brigades, McOlellan might have 
walked past us to Richmond with the rest of his army almost 
any morning before breakfast." 

In justice to the officers commanding the Monitor, First 
Lieutenant Worden and then Lieutenant Greene, it should be 
remembered that they were forced into a fight immediately 
upon their arrival in Hampton Roads, after a fatiguing sea voy- 
age, under singularly trying circumstances, and with a vessel 
whose peculiarities they had no time to investigate. "All the 
men," wrote Isaac Newton, the engineer of the vessel, a were 
nearly exhausted. I, for one, was sick on my back, with but 
little hopes of being up in a week, but a short time before the 
action." " The Merrimac" he further says, " was entirely in 
our power when she hauled off, but orders were imperative to 
act on the defensive." The commander of the Merrimac, 
Catesby Jones, testified before a naval court that the Monitor 
ought to have sunk his vessel in fifteen minutes. Mr. Alban 

*Wm. Norris in Southern Magazine, Baltimore, November, 1874, pp. 
181, 182. 


C. Stimers, speaks of meeting Mr. Jones many times after the 
war, and talking over the engagement. On the last occasion, 
said Mr. Stimers (1872), he remarked: "The war has been 
over a good while now, and I think there can be no harm in 
my saying to you that, if you had hit us twice more as well as 
you did the last two shots you fired, you would have sunk 
us." * 

John S. Porter, naval constructor of the Confederate States, 
reported that after the engagements of March 8 and 9, 1862, 
he put the Virginia on the dry dock, and found she had ninety- 
seven indentations on her armor from shot, twenty of which 
were from the 11-inch guns of the Monitor. Six of her top 
layers of plates were broken by the Monitor's shot, and none 
by those of the wooden vessels. None of the lower layer of 
plates were injured. 

Mr. Newton's statement concerning the defensive role of 
the Monitor is fully confirmed by Assistant Secretary Fox. 
In a letter to Captain Ericsson, he says : " I wrote the order 
forbidding the Monitor going into the upper roads to meet the 
Merrimac. Why? Because I had pledged McClellan that 
the Merrimac should not disturb his military manoeuvres, and 
to that obligation all naval operations were subordinate. We 
fulfilled our duty, and kept her in until she committed * hari 
kari.' " President Lincoln had also given orders that the Mon- 
itor should take no risks that could be avoided. 

While the contest in Hampton Roads served to direct the 
attention of all the world to the necessity for making a com- 
plete change in naval armaments, it did not fully illustrate the 
possibilities of the monitor system. When his vessel had 
passed from the hands of Ericsson, it was beyond his control. 
He had done his part in furnishing an impregnable floating 
battery, carrying guns that were equal to the task of destroy- 
ing the enemy's vessel ; he could do no more. The wave of 
rejoicing which swept over the North was doe not so much to 
the achievement of the Monitor, fonght as she was, as to the 
sense of relief at the discoveiy that the Government had under 
its control at least one vessel that could not be destroyed by 

** Letter of Alban C. Stfimers to Isaac Newton, dated New York, Decem- 
ber 15, 1876. 


the Merrimac. The timid counsels prevailing at "Washington, 
prevented the contest from being brought to the issue which 
Ericsson intended. Though the necessities of the times may 
have required this, the result was not less disappointing to 

u The Monitor only appears upon the scene," says the Con- 
federate writer here quoted, " after we have been on the ram- 
page for a whole day; have cleared out everything in the 
Roads men-of-war, transports, traders, and have done the 
enemy all possible injury, material and moral. Stocks fall 
ten per cent, in an hour, gold rises faster, and such a panic pre- 
vails as was never known before or since." 

Secretary Welles, describing a cabinet meeting called by Mr. 
Lincoln on receipt 'of the news of the first day's disaster, says : 
" Mr. Stanton said : * c The Merrimac will change the whole 
character of the war ; she will destroy, seriatim, every naval 
vessel ; she will lay all the cities on the seaboard under contri- 
bution. I shall immediately recall Burnside ; Port Royal must 
be abandoned. I will notify the governors and municipal au- 
thorities in the JSTorth to take instant measures to protect their 
harbors. I have no doubt that the monster is at this minute 
on her way to Washington, and ' looking out of the window 
which commanded a view of the Potomac for many miles 
'not unlikely we shall have a shell or a cannon-ball from one of 
her guns in the White House before we leave the room ! ' Mr. 
Seward, usually buoyant and self-reliant, overwhelmed with 
the intelligence, listened in responsive sympathy to Stanton, and 
was greatly depressed, as indeed were all the members." 

It is true that the Confederate writer claims the victory for 
the Virginia in this battle: a battle described by him as 
" revolutionizing in an instant the whole science of naval war- 
fare ; more memorable than any sea-fight of history, more 
pregnant of consequences," and one to be " remembered to the 
latest posterity as the prominent naval event of our times." 
This is not worth disputing over. The prestige of victory was 
with the Monitor, and it is that vessel, and not the Merrimac, 
that revolutionized naval ideas and influenced naval construc- 
tion. The one was a rnde machine hastily improvised to 
* Welles's Lincoln and Seward. 


meet an emergency ; the other the expression of the carefully 
matured plans of the ablest and most experienced worker in 
the field of naval construction. The Virginia,* a few weeks 
later, and without doing further damage, sank beneath the 
waters of Chesapeake Bay, to be thenceforth remembered only 
as the antagonist of the Monitor Ericsson's Battery estab- 
lished a type whose influence upon naval construction has not 
yet passed away. 

" The Monitor? said Admiral Luce, in a paper read before 
the ISTaval Institute, April 20, 1876, " was the crystallization of 
forty centuries of thought on attack and defence, and exhibited 
in a singular manner the old ISTorse element of the American 
Navy ; Ericsson (Swedish, son of Eric) built her ; Dahlgren 
(Swedish, branch of a valley) armed her ; and Worden (Swe- 
dish, wordig, worthy) fought her. How the ancient skalds 
would have struck their wild harps in hearing such names in 
heroic verse ! How they would have written them in ' im- 
mortal runes ! ' " 

" So of the Monitor^ Minotaur old Mr. Quincy said to me 
it should have been, in its appearance in part of the great meg- 
alosaurus or deinotherium, which came out in scaly armor that 
no one could pierce, breathing fire and smoke from its nostrils ; 
is it not the age of fable and of heroes and demigods over 
again ? " f 

* This vessel is indifferently known as the 3ferrzmac or Vvrginia. She 
was the U.S. screw steamer Merrimac of 3,200 tons, 40 guns, built in 1855, 
and captured with Norfolk, Ya , 1861. When she was razeed and converted 
into an armored vessel, she was rechristened Virginia. 

f See Letter of Oliver Wendell Holmes, in The Correspondence of John 
Lothrop Motley. 



Congratulations and Applause Following the Success of the Monitor. 
Delight of the Swedes, Letter from Mrs. Ericsson. Ericsson's 
only Speech. His Chagrin at the Drawn Battle between the Moni- 
tor and the Merrimac. Exaggerated Hopes and Fears on both 

TT^OLLOWING- the success of the Monitor, there swept in 
J- upon Ericsson a great tide of congratulation and applause. 
All of the " loyal " papers were filled with praises of him and 
glorification of his Monitor, and of her officers and crew. 
" The joyous news was flashed through the Worth, and now 
from Congress and State Legislatures, now from Chambers of 
Commerce and Boards of Trade, now from public meetings 
and societies convened for the purpose, thanks and laudations 
were poured upon the Monitor Ericsson, her inventor, Wor- 
den, her commander, Greene, her executive officer, Newton, 
her chief engineer, Stimers, the engineer detailed to accompany 
and report upon her, and who worked the turret. All the 
officers, in short, and the crew shared the honors. The Presi- 
dent, members of his cabinet, many of the diplomatic corps, 
officers of both services, and ladies too, crowded to see the new 
engine of warfare and to view with their own eyes the place of 
the conflict of Hampton Roads." 

Stimers wrote from on board the Monitor in Hampton 
Roads, March 13, 1862 : " You can form no idea of how very 
grateful the thousands of people here are to you for having 
produced this vessel. General Wool " (then commanding the 
Department of Virginia, with headquarters at Fort Monroe) 
"told me he considered you the greatest man living. General 
Mansfield said to me that our battle was of more importance 
than if the whole army of the Potomac had moved success- 


fully against the enemy. We are remarkably popular on shore 
here, and I confess it made me very proud when such men as 
General Wool and General Mansfield grasped me by the hand 
with both their own, and told me they were very proud to make 
my acquaintance." 

Ericsson's personal friends were naturally delighted at find- 
ing all the world joining with them in proclaiming his masterly 
ability, already shown in so many ways but so imperfectly 
recognized. " God bless you, Captain," wrote Professor M apes, 
on the day after the fight; " you have long deserved the grati- 
tude of mankind, and now you have been able to appeal to the 
keenest nerve of human susceptibility and they can no longer 
withhold the full measure of praise so long and so justly due 
to your genius and assiduity." 

From Rome, John O. Sargent wrote. March 31, 1862 : 

Private letters received here state tliat both "Washington and New 
York were in a state of great consternation when it was known that the 
Cumberland and Congress had been sunk, and that the relief when the 
achievement of the Monitor was known was indescribable. Tour tri- 
umph has been complete. The opinion is generally entertained here 
that you were on board. I hope not. It is an awful pill for John Bull. 
The Times is sneaking about it as usual, and gives the world to under- 
stand that the Merrimac was only disabled by " another iron-clad frigate " 
not wishing it to appear that this little gunboat would handle the 
Warrior or La Gloire as well as the Merrimac. Epes wrote me on March 
llth, that the one name on everybody's lips for the last two days has been 
Ericsson's. Ericsson is hailed as the great deliverer. The old fogies who 
have opposed him are humbled and silenced. Hurrah ! The salvation 
of fleets was never carried in so small a compass before. What would not 
the Merrimac have done but for the timely appearance of the Monitor f 

Two years later Mr. Sargent wrote from Paris that no 
other event of the war had created more excitement and inter- 
est in Europe. 

From Ericsson's native land came numerous congratulations, 
and these he valued most highly. The Consul of the United 
States at Stockholm wrote to the Department of State at 
Washington, saying; 

I have the honor to inform you that the delight of the Swedes in re- 
gard to the success of the Monitor in her combat with the Merrimac is 


manifesting itself to-day on 'Change, by the raising of a subscription 
for a large and splendid gold medal which is intended to be transmitted 
to America and presented to Mr. Ericsson, the constructor of the Moni- 
tor. The Swedish Government has had for some time the intention of 
enlarging her navy, and for this purpose has had in existence a com- 
mittee of scientific gentlemen, whose duty it was to examine and report 
upon the best and most practical character of ships for construction ; but 
the result of the action between the Monitor and the Merrimac has sud- 
denly brought the labors of the committee to a stand, and they have 
determined to make no report until the result of further trials with 
Ericsson's invention are made known. The contest above alluded to has 
proved most fortunate for Sweden, as it has undoubtedly saved her an 
immense outlay in a comparatively useless direction ; hence the Swedes 
and the Swedish Government have good reason to be truly thankful' to 
Mr. Ericsson and the American Government, for having inaugurated a 
principle which will in the end save them so much money. 

Among Ericsson's English friends was Sir Charles Fox, to 
whom he had given his first employment as a civil engineer, 
who was subsequently knighted for his work in connection with 
the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, 1851, and whose name is 
connected with many extensive railroads and other engineering 
works. From London Sir Charles sent his greetings to his 
old friend, saying : 


MY DEAE SIR : I have been wishing to write to you for some time 
past, to offer you my congratulations on the success of the Monitor, 
which I assure you afforded me much satisfaction, as in fact anything 
would do which tended to advance the welfare of one whose friendship 
I shall always look back upon with much satisfaction as having been 
manifested at a period when it was of the greatest value to me and in so 
disinterested a manner. Not long since I went to post a letter at Char- 
ing Cross, when at the same moment a lady also dropped a letter into the 
box. We accidentally looked at each other, when I saw that I was recog- 
nized, and upon looking more closely I found myself face to face with 
Mrs. Ericsson, whom I had not seen for many years. I at once received 
the kindest invitation to call upon her at her residence at Kensington, of 
which I was not long in availing myself, and was pleased to find your wife 
in a small, but very comfortable and nicely furnished cottage. We spoke 
much of you, and I was not a little pleased with the kind expressions with 
regard to you which I listened to as they fell from her lips. Mrs. Erics- 
son is delighted at your success and reads every account of the Moni- 
tor with the deepest interest, and is still venturing to hope that you 


will one day return to England, and afford her the opportunity of again 
proving the affection which she has ever cherished for you. 

If you can, without trouble, occasionally forward me a paper contain- 
ing anything of interest respecting yourself, by doing so you will confer 
a favor on Your faithful friend, 


Mrs. Ericsson sent her own congratulations as follows : 

KENSINGTON GATE, April 2, 1862. 

I duly received the illustrated paper announcing the most surpris- 
ing intelligence of the result of your genius, which I think has startled 
all Europe. Your triumph has at length arrived, at a crisis which must 
make your heart palpitate with a pride and joy almost too exquisite to 
endure. You are now on an eminence from which you can survey "with 
scorn those in Europe who never gave you a fair field for your talents. 
The Times' leading article is fraught with the subject of your success, 
and it has come like a thunderbolt upon all nations and I think has 
truly verified what you stated in your last letter, " that England would 
shortly tremble " at the revolution which would take place in warfare. 

Probably you doubt my assurance when I tell you that my gratifica- 
tion at your triumph over all the world makes my nights sleepless with 
excitement, and though in reality I am not tangibly identified with it, I 
am in heart and soul made happy. The word of praise from me would 
fall listlessly on your ear when all are proclaiming your achievements, so 
good taste dictates I should be silent ; yet, notwithstanding, my sympa- 
thies are fully enlisted. My prayer for your success has been granted by 
Providence for this proud climax of your reputation, and I feel sure 
soon in the midst of the tumultuous roar of praise and idolatry by which 
you are surrounded a stray thought of yours will waft its way to my 

You are by this time in possession of mine of March 19th, to which 
I trust soon to have an answer. With earnest wishes that your health 
may be preserved and that every happiness may attend you, I am as 
ever AMI^T/T^- 

p. S. A thousand thanks for your kindness in sending me the 

This letter is interesting, not only as a part* of Ericsson's 
history at this period but because of the light it throws upon 
his relations to his wife. The correspondence between them 
had reference chiefly to Ins remittances for her support, but it 
was constant, and occasionally illuminated by flashes of the old 
affection which seems never to have died ont from the heart of 


either. All the letters from Mrs. Ericsson found among her 
husband's files are endorsed in his handwriting " Duck," the 
familiar name by which she was known to him and to her fam- 
ily. She was a woman of great kindness of heart but wayward 
in disposition. The} 7 parted with mutual consent, and as she 
would not come to the United States, and he could not return to 
England, they never met again. 

March 28, 1862, the 37th Congress, during its second ses- 
sion, passed this joint resolution : 

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of 

America in Congress assembled) 

That it is fifc and proper that a public acknowledgment be made to 
Captain John Ericsson, for his enterprise, skill, energy, and forecast, dis- 
played by him in the construction of his iron-clad boat the Monitor, 
which, tinder gallant and able management, came so opportunely to the 
rescue of our fleet in Hampton Boads, and perchance, of all our coast 
defences near, and arrested the work of destruction then being success- 
fully prosecuted by the enemy with their iron-clad steamers, seemingly 
irresistible by any other power at our command and that the thanks of 
Congress are hereby presented to him for the great service which he 
has thus rendered to the country. 

The Legislature of ]S"ew York also passed resolutions thank- 
ing Ericsson for his great services to the country. These were 
handsomely engrossed on parchment, set in a fine gilt frame 
ou which were depicted the Monitor and its construction, and 
presented by a committee of six members of the Legislature. 
They ever after hung in a place of honor in Ericsson's house. 
Some of the leading engineering establishments and shipbuild- 
ing firms also presented a magnificent model of the Monitor 
made of gold, weighing upward of fourteen pounds and costing 
$7,000. The entire detail of the turret, the machinery, etc., 
was represented in this model. It proved a white elephant, 
however, as its presentation established a " claim " upon the 
part of the artist, and after expending $4,000 in answering 
these demands, and in keeping this valuable piece of plate in- 
sured, Captain Ericsson finally sent it to the goldsmith's to be 
melted up. It yielded $600 for its metal and the proceeds 
were devoted to charity. 


Immediately upon the receipt of the news from Hampton 
Koads a special meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of the 
City of New York was called for March 12, 1862. Ericsson 
was invited to attend, and he received the warmest possible 
greeting when he entered the Chamber under the escort of one 
of the members, Mr. Prosper "W. Wetmore, on whose motion 
he was unanimously chosen an honorary member. The Cham- 
ber then adopted with great enthusiasm these resolutions offered 
by Mr. Charles Gould : 

Resolved, That the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York 
gratefully recognize, and desire to place on record, their profound sense 
of the obligations under which Captain Ericsson has placed the people 
of the United States. To his genius and activity is due their salvation 
from a national disgrace, and disasters for which otherwise there could 
have been no remedy. 

Resolved, That the floating battery Monitor deserves to, and will be 
forever mentioned with gratitude and admiration. 

Resolved, That the Chamber of Commerce expect that the Govern- 
ment of the United States will make to Captain Ericsson such suitable 
return for his inestimable services as will evince the gratitude of a great 

Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions, duly certified, be for- 
warded to Captain Ericsson and to the President of the United States. 

Captain Ericsson was called upon and delivered a speech 
the only one by him found upon record. A report of this is 
entered in the Minutes of the Chamber of Commerce as fol- 
lows : 

Captain Ericsson, during his remarks, alluding to the voyage of the 
Monitor to Fortress Monroe, said : 

I cannot permit this opportunity to pass without saying that I look 
upon the success of that as being entirely owing to the presence of a 
master-mind [Mr. Stimers]. The men were new; their passage had 
been very rough, and the master had to put his vessel right under the 
heaviest guns that were ever worked on shipboard. It is evident that 
but for the presence of a master-mind on board of that vessel, that suc- 
cess could not have been achieved. Captain Worden, no doubt, ac- 
quitted himself in the most masterly manner. But everything was 
quite new. He felt quite nervous before he went on board. The fact 
that the bulwark of the vessel was but one foot above the water-line 
was enough to make Mm so. When I was before the Naval Committee 
tlie grand objection was that in sea-way the vessel would 


gave it as my opinion that it would prove the most easy-working in sea- 
way, and it is an excellent sea boat. The men are supplied with fresh 
air, though there is no opening except through the turret, by means of 
blowers worked by the engines, and they are perfectly comfortable. 
They can remain in the top of the turret in the sea-way ; it is sixty feet 
in circumference quite a promenade. Though the deck is but a foot 
above the water-line, the top of the turret is nine feet above ; and here 
is the important point, that this vessel is in the sea-way perhaps the 
safest vessel ever built. It takes six hundred and seventy thousand 
pounds to bring her down. There can be no danger of her swamping. 
It is very much like a bottle with a cork in it. 

In relation to the point whether the Monitor is capable of taking care 
of the Merrimac, let me say that she would have sunk the Merrimac but 
for the fact of her having fired too high. If they had kept off at a dis- 
tance of two hundred yards, and held the gun exactly level, the shot 
would have gone clear through. But Mr. Stimers had the guns ele- 
vated a little, and the roof of the Merrimac is so strong that the balls 
rebounded. Next time they encounter the Merrimac they will have the 
guns level, and they won't mind if the ball strikes the water, because 
the ricochet will take it where they want it. The next time they go 
out I predict the third round will sink the Merrimac. 

There is another great point. They had fifty wrought-iron shot 
which were not used. Captain Dahlgren issued peremptory orders that 
they should not be used, and they obeyed those orders. Now, a wrought- 
iron shot is one thing, and a cast-iron shot is another. A wrought-iron 
shot cannot break. The side-armor of the Merrimac is insufficient to 
resist it. The channel is very narrow, and the Merrimac must follow 
it. But the Monitor can go anywhere and take the very best position. 

The merchants of New York might well do honor to the 
constructor of the Monitor, for through his instrumentality 
their anxious dreams of the destruction of their wealth had 
been set at rest, and their hope of final victory over the rebel- 
lious States revived. The news of the repulse of the Merri- 
mac had followed hard upon a despatch of General Wool to 
the authorities at "Washington, announcing that probably both 
the Minnesota and St. Lawrence would be captured, and say- 
ing : " It was thought that the Merrimac and Jamestown and 
Yorktown would pass the fort to-night [Sunday, March 8th] . 
It was also admitted that if the Merrimac prepared to attack 
the fort it would be only a question of a few days when it must 
be abandoned." As the Oomte de Paris says in his history of 
our war : 


" All the previsions of the Federals, founded upon the supe- 
riority of their magnificent fleet of wooden vessels, would have 
disappeared with the Cumberland and the Congress. The war 
would have changed front, and the Confederate flag, opening a 
new era in marine warfare, would easily have raised the block- 
ade which prevented the Slave States from freely procuring 
supplies in Europe." 

A member of the New York Chamber of Commerce, famil- 
iar with the circumstances of that time, afterward wrote to 
Ericsson, saying : 

I recall the situation in which this city was placed in the opening 
weeks of the war growing out of the Bebellion, and when on several 
occasions the Mayor of New York (Mr. George Opdyke) called together 
in council some of its trusted citizens, eminent in various callings, to 
devise means for defending its approaches. The best plan that could 
be suggested was to form " rafts " or " floats " of timber which should oc- 
cupy the channels and be held in place by anchorage and chains. For 
this purpose and to this end considerable sums of money were unof- 
ficially expended. It was not then made known to them that you were 
engaged on your first monitor and even had it come to their knowl- 
edge, it is doubtful whether, with their lack of scientific information, 
their fears would have been allayed. 

"When the final hour of trial came, and the best efforts of the navy 
had been uselessly expended against the M&^rimac (the source of all our 
anxiety), then it was that the Monitor, almost unknown, with its magic 
presence appeared to give victory to our arms and forever make secure 
our harbors from a foreign attack. The controlling power of other ves- 
sels, soon after constructed on the Monitor plan; redeemed oar navy 
from the inefficiency and contempt with which it was regarded by our 
enemies, as well as the naval powers of the world. 

" Great was the joy In the North," says another chronicle 
of the times, " when news came that the Monitor had turned 
the current of affairs, but greater yet was it in Washington 
where boats were laden with stone to be sunk in the channel, 
in case the M&rrwnac destroyed her adversaries." 

Lieutenant (afterward Admiral) Worden, who commanded 
the Monitor^ was much disturbed by Ericsson's speech at the 
Chamber of Commerce. Two years after the fight, Ericsson's 
associate, John A. Griswold, said, in a letter dated from the 
national House of Representatives : " I have just had a call from 


Captain "Worden. He thinks you did him injustice in your 
Chamber of Commerce remarks for the sake of complimenting 
S timers, and says the c master spirit ' had nothing at all to do 
with the affair of the Merrimac, was not consulted, and was in 
no special way tributary to the result of that combat." 

"With this opinion Ericsson did not agree. In the only offi- 
cial report concerning the action of the Monitor on the 9th 
of March, which was in the shape of a telegram from the 
Assistant Secretary of the ]STavy, of that date, to the Depart- 
ment, Mr. Pox says : " Lieutenant Worden, who commanded 
the Monitor, handled her with great skill, and was assisted by 
Chief Engineer Stimers." 

Mr. Stimers won upon Ericsson by his absolute faith in the 
Monitor, which went much beyond that displayed by those in 
control of her. March 24, 1862, he wrote : 

I told the Flag (Flag-Officer Goldsborough) my idea of what should 
be done as follows : We get nnder way between two and three o'clock in 
the morning, and at five, as daylight commences to break, we would be 
alongside of the Merrimac in Norfolk, throwing in our heavy shot. After 
demolishing her we would come back, and if they placed any obstruc- 
tions in our way we would tell them to remove them or we would razee 
their town with shells. The old gentleman and his Fleet Captain looked 
at each other in mutual astonishment and pleasure ; they appeared to 
think that it was almost too much of a madcap scheme to be practicable, 
but I do not despair of being permitted to put it into practice just as soon 
as the embargo upon us is let up, which will be the case as soon as the 
one hundred and thirty thousand troops, now arriving, can come and go 
again in safety. 

Confederate accounts indicate that this plan would have 
succeeded, if carried out with energy and skill. The "Commit- 
tee on the Conduct of the War," in their report (vol. i., p. 62) 
say : " Had Norfolk been captured during the winter of 1861- 
62, and the Merrimae taken possession of or destroyed, the 
way to Richmond would have been opened and the fatal delays 
of, -the Peninsula avoided." The failure to accomplish all that 
was expected and intended was one of the bitter disappoint- 
ments of Ericsson's life. When he first heard of the engage- 
ment lie exclaimed : " The Monitor ought to have sunk her in 
fifteen minutes." 


The Chief Engineer of the Monitor, First Assistant Engineer 
Xewton, questioned afterwards by the War Committee of Con- 
gress why the battle was not more promptly decided against 
the Virginia or Me/'rimac, answered : " It was due to the fact 
that the power and endurance of the 11-inch Dahlgren guns, 
with which the Monitor was armed, were not known at the 
time of the battle ; hence the commander would scarcely have 
been justified in increasing the charge of powder above that 
authorized in the ' Ordnance Manual.' Subsequent experiments 
developed the important fact that these guns could be fired 
with thirty pounds of cannon powder, with solid shot. If this 
had been known at the time of the action, I am clearly of 
opinion that, from the close quarters at which Lieutenant Wor- 
den fought his vessel, the enemy would have been forced to 
surrender. . . . But for the injury received by Lieutenant 
Worden, that vigorous officer would very likely have badgered 
the Merrimas to a surrender." 

This want of faith in the 11-inch Dahlgrens was not shared 
by Ericsson, and at that period his opinion on a question of 
guns was worth more than that of anyone else, and it was justi- 
fied by the event. His experience had been large and his 
studies exhaustive. Commencing with his training as an ar- 
tillerist in the Swedish army, they extended through the period 
of his labors in connection with the Princeton and so down 
to the date of the completion of the Monitor. His mastery of 
this subject was shown a little later on in his complete victory 
over united ordnance opinion in England, in a controversy which 
he conducted through the columns of the New York Army 
and Navy Journal. 

But the Virginia had created at Washington, and through- 
out the North, an exaggerated fear of her prowess. Hence the 
peremptory orders to take no risks, and in war all is risk. So 
the help McClellan counted on receiving from the navy on the 
opening of his campaign against Richmond, by way of the 
Torktown peninsula, was denied to him, that the Merrimac 
might be watched, instead of destroyed. 

As to operating in the James, the Confederate authority 
before quoted says : " Possibly we might have taken the Vir- 
ginia as far as Harrison's Bar, but such action would have 


been absurd from every point of view. As the enemy occupied 
both sides of the river above, we could neither coal nor provision 
her, and would have been compelled to destroy her in a few 
days, if she remained so long uncaptured." He says further: 
" The truth was that the ship was not weatherly enough to move 
in Hampton Roads at all times with safety, and she never could 
have been moved more than three hours' sail from a machine 
shop. A shell or two amidships, between wind and water (she 
had no knuckle) and her career was closed. She drew twenty- 
two feet of water, was in every respect ill-proportioned and 
top-heavy ; and what with her immense length and wretched 
engines (than which a more ill-contrived, spindling, and unreli- 
able pair were never made ; failing on one occasion while the 
ship was under fire) she was little more navigable than a tim- 
ber-raft. Pier quarters for the crew were close, damp, ill-venti- 
lated, and unhealthy ; one-third of the men were always on the 
sick list and were most always transferred to the hospital, 
where they would convalesce immediately. She steered very 
badly and both her rudder and screw were wholly unprotected. 
Every man and officer well understood the utter feebleness of 
the ship, and the terrible efficiency of the enemy's magnificent 
fleet. Most of the men had taken, as they supposed, a last 
farewell of wives, children, friends, and had set in order their 
worldly affairs. All the lieutenants (Catesby Jones excepted) 
had several weeks previously partaken publicly of the holy sac- 

Yet throughout the South expectation as to the perform- 
ance of the Confederate vessel ran high, and they were as con- 
fident as were the Philistines when " they were gathered to- 
gether at Shochoh" and sent forth their champion, Goliath of 
Gath, " armed with a coat of mail." In correspondence with 
these hopes were the exaggerated alarms that spread through- 
out the North, having Washington for their centre. In the 
imagination of the excitable Stan ton hot shot were already set- 
ting fire to the White House. The Herrimac was first to take 
the Capitol, following the British precedent of 1812. Next 
she was to levy tribute on New York, and, after raising the 
blockade of the Southern ports, she was to rival the splendid 
career of the Alabama. She was to secure the possession of 


Hampton Roads, which would have made McOlellan's penin- 
sula campaign impossible, and all other campaigns requiring 
the control of the York, the James, and the Appomattox. 
Fort Monroe was to be captured and the way opened for for- 
eign vessels to the very gates of Richmond. The foreign 
friends of the Confederacy were to have their hands so strength- 
ened that they could secure the great prize of recognition. 

What might have followed had the destruction of the Vir- 
ginia coincided more nearly with McClellan's advent on the 
Peninsula is suggested by what Pollard in his " Secret History 
of the Confederacy " (p. 224) tells us of the effect of her self- 
destruction when, a few months later, on May 10, 1862, she was 
blown up by her commander " within sight of the Gwriberlancfs 
top-gallant-masts all awash." According to Pollard this catastro- 
phe nearly resulted in the surrender of Richmond and created 
a public grief so wild and bitter that at one time it was feared 
the building in which were collected the departments of the 
Confederate Government might be stormed by a mob. The 
vessel had been fondly named the "iron diadem of the South," 
and it was counted the equivalent of an army of fifty thousand 
men in defence of the Confederate capital. 

These expectations and fears may seem exaggerated in the 
light of to-day, but, in the Spring of 1862, they were very real 
to those who were watching with hope or with dread the career 
of the Confederate iron-clad Merrimac. They contributed 
their part to the estimation in which the services of Ericsson 
were held, and to the confidence in him which placed the build- 
ing of an iron-clad navy for the United States at his disposal, 
securing for him the control in the important concerns of a 
great nation such as has rarely been accorded to a private citi- 
zen, however eminent his ability. " The immediate results of 
the conflict between the Monitor and the Mefrrimac" says 
Swinton in his " Twelve Decisive Battles," " was obviously the 
overthrow of the great projects conceived by the latter vessel, 
the salvation of the Union squadron, and the preservation of 
the blockade and of Fort Monroe. Its wider result was to fur- 
nish to the Union a new engine of warfare, which, rapidly and 
cheaply constructed, proved impregnable in defence and irre- 
sistible in attack. 


"The 15-inch gun in tlie impregnable Monitor turret, 
mutters with its deep voice, c Hands off ! ' to whatever transat- 
lantic nation might before have meditated an interference in 
the American war. Before the rapidity of the achievement 
was comprehended a squadron of monitors patrolled the At- 
lantic seaboard, capable of destroj r ing any fleet that might 
challenge entrance to its harbors. The lesson was not lost 
upon foreign ministers, who inclined to think twice before en- 
countering this new and terrible engine of defence. 

" The stor^ of the battle of Hampton Eoads created the 
profoundest sensation in the court of every maritime nation. 
For months, not only the scientific, but the popular journals 
were filled with the discussion of its merits and its meaning ; 
the professional naval world was profoundly agitated ; ad- 
miralty boards and ministers of marine conned its details; 'in 
fine, Russia and Sweden promptly accepted the Monitor as the 
solution of the naval problem of the age, and followed the lead 
of America in reconstructing their navies on that system. 
France and England had, unfortunately for themselves, been- 
committed to the broadside iron-clad before the introduction of 
the Monitor^ and the enormous sums already laid out enough 
to build many squadrons of monitors joined to some national . 
pride, and, in the case of England at least, reinforced by a 
wondrous obstinacy of depreciation only to be understood when 
one reads sucli histories as that of the screw-propeller these 
causes prevented the renunciation in France and England of 
their iron-clad navies already built, and the substitution of the 
turreted Monitor. 

" However, in both countries the combat of March 9th was 
received with the profoundest study, and was regarded as the 
death-stroke to wooden war vessels. In England, on hearing 
the news of the battle, the House of Commons, in obedience to 
general sentiment, stopped at once the great military project 
of building forts at Spithead for the defence of Portland. 
The Defence, Commission, too, was hastily reassembled for the 
special purpose of considering the effect of the * recent engage- 
ment that has taken place in the Chesapeake between the naval 
forces of the United States and" the Confederates' on the- erec- 
tion of these forts. The Royal Commission found ' the expres- 


sion of opinion which followed the action of the Merrimac 
and fifonitorj and the doubts that took possession of the pub- 
lic mind c thereupon to be not unreasonable. 5 But when, not- 
withstanding these doubts, the Commission had the hardihood 
to recommend .the construction of the forts, the Government, 
again menaced by the House of Commons, was forced to 
abandon this position, and the proposed Spithead forts were 
given up, reliance being had for defence, in the future, upon 
ironclad vessels." 

The world had begun to accept the judgment pronounced 
upon the ^Monitor and her creator by the officer commanding 
her antagonist in the Hampton Roads, Catesby Jones, when 
he said : " I am one of the admirers of the Monitor and of 
Ericsson. He is a great genius."